Monday, 7 March 2011

TVIL: Recurring Cat Flu?

My two cats both had a bad case of cat flu as kittens, which they 
recovered from.  One has since died (this was 15 years ago), but my 
surviving cat often seems to have a cold or sniffles.  We've been back 
and forth to the vet's but they recommend a variety of different 
antibiotics and nothing really seems to work - except time.

Could she still be suffering the after effects of cat flu?  And if 
she's eating and drinking fine, am I ok to leave it?  or does it 
always warrant a vet trip?

Dear Anita.
'Cat flu' is almost as common in cats as 'the flu' is in humans but in cats it's normally caused one of two viruses, Feline Herpesvirus and Feline Calicivirus.
In healthy adult cat, these viruses will only cause mild 'flu' signs but in young kittens or an older cat can lead to ongoing respiratory problems, pneumonia and sometimes death. Some of the cats that get sick require a lot of nursing but most of them do recover. However, if they have been infected with Herpesvirus, up to 80% of cats will go on to become carriers, and I suspect this is the case with your cat.
When your kittens were sick with cat flu, I'm guessing they were sneezing and had running eyes for a couple of weeks. They were probably a little lethargic and off their food as they had mild temperatures. These are signs of Herpesvirus infection compared to a Calicivirus infection, which usually causes tongue ulcers and lameness.
Once your kittens recovered, one or both of them probably shed the virus intermittently at stressful times in their lives. Your remaining cat's runny nose, and perhaps eyes, is due to her cat flu all those years ago.

As long as the discharge from her nose, and eyes ( if they are involved), stays watery  rather than looking like snot, and she is still eating and as active as normal, then there is probably no need to take her to your vet.
Keep her nose and eyes clear from secretions with damp cotton wool, and shut her in the bathroom with you while you have a shower or bath for some steam therapy if she is especially snotty. Some cats need to be put into their carry cage before they come into the bathroom, for their safety and yours!
If your cat enjoys being stroked, then a couple of sessions of stroking will keep her purring for at least 20 minutes, which will help her breathe more easily. It will help control your stress levels too, if that's an issue.

Her runny nose/eyes may seem to completely disappear eventually or you may find they persist on some level- it depends on the cat. With an old girl like yours, you should mention it to your vet when you go for your next vaccinations. There may be some underlying disease process that is lowering the effectiveness of her immune system.

As a rule, cats that carry cat flu should still be vaccinated annually. It's unlikely that your cat will have been infected with both viruses and the annual vaccination protects against a couple of much nastier diseases as well. A yearly jab can help prevent your old lady from suffering anymore than she already does.

The Vet Is Listening (TVIL) is a sometimes weekly feature, where I respond to questions submitted by a reader or client. If you'd like your question answered please email it to me on jacq (at) thevisitingvet (dot) co (dot) uk or comment below.
Thank you.

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