Welcoming a new kitten to your family is an exciting time, but ample preparation is required to ensure your new feline friend is set up for success. From litter boxes and proper nutrition, to toy mice and hiding spots, cats require regular care to ensure they remain physically and mentally healthy. Young cats may be mischievous and want to explore the outdoors, where pesky birds or flying bugs are plentiful. However, keeping your pet indoors is a critical component of responsible cat ownership, because outdoor young cats have an increased risk of contracting dangerous infectious diseases. Additionally, they need regular veterinary examinations and vaccinations, which are the safest, most effective way to protect them from common cat infectious diseases. Our University Veterinary Hospital team wants to ensure your feline pal is protected from common viral diseases. We describe three common cat viruses and ways to protect your pet. 

#1: Feline leukemia virus in cats

Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is a widespread, highly contagious retrovirus that causes more cat deaths than any other pathogen. More than 85 percent of persistently infected cats will succumb to this virus. Young cats, cats who live primarily outdoors, unneutered male cats, and unvaccinated cats who have underlying medical problems are most at risk for contracting FeLV. In some cases, cats who are exposed to FeLV may be able to resist the virus and clear the infection. However, affected cats are at risk for secondary diseases, including anemia, neurologic disorders, reproductive problems, liver disease, mouth inflammation, and a suppressed immune system. Additionally, FeLV is the most common cause of lymphoma in cats.

FeLV is transmitted by close contact with an infected cat, and is most commonly spread through mutual grooming or fighting. Infected cats can also shed the virus in their blood, urine, feces, nasal secretions, and milk. FeLV infection has no treatment or cure, and regular checkups will ensure that should your cat be infected with FeLV, they will receive the required supportive care, such as fluid therapy or immunotherapy medications. Having your cat FeLV tested before introducing them to other feline family members is vital, to prevent infection spread. Bring your cat to our University Veterinary Hospital veterinarian if they have the following FeLV infection signs:

  • Inflammation of the gums and mouth (i.e., stomatitis, or oral ulcers)
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Lethargy and weakness
  • Vomiting and diarrhea 
  • Fever
  • Dull hair coat
  • Weight loss
  • Pale gums
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Seizures, or other neurologic disorders 
  • Difficulty breathing 

#2: Feline immunodeficiency virus in cats

Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), like FeLV, is a highly contagious cat retrovirus. FIV, which is similar to human immunodeficiency virus or AIDS, attacks the immune system, increasing the cat’s chances of contracting secondary infections that can lead to severe illness. FIV is more commonly diagnosed in outdoor, unneutered male cats, although any cat can become infected. 

FIV is most commonly transmitted through bite wounds from an infected cat, but cats who share water bowls with, or groom, an FIV-infected cat have a low risk for contracting the virus. An FIV infection has no cure, although infected cats may live for years without becoming sick. Regular veterinary care is vital to monitor infected cats for secondary infections or illnesses, which can be deadly. In FIV-positive cats who do exhibit signs, you may see:

  • Inflammation of the gums and mouth (i.e., stomatitis, or oral ulcers)
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Lethargy and weakness
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Vomiting and diarrhea 
  • Fever
  • Dull hair coat
  • Weight loss
  • Pale gums
  • Enlarged lymph nodes

#3: Feline infectious peritonitis in cats

Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is an infectious viral disease caused by certain strains of the enteric feline coronavirus (FeCV), which is not contagious to humans or other species. Many cats are FeCV carriers, and they may experience mild signs, such as diarrhea or upper respiratory infections when first infected. However, 10 percent of cats may experience a mutation in the FeCV that attacks their white blood cells and can be deadly, although the FIP illness itself is not considered contagious.

Young cats, immunocompromised cats, cats who are housed in crowded catteries, and cats who are stressed are most at risk for developing an FIP infection. No cure or treatment for FIP is available. Supportive veterinary care can increase an infected cat’s quality of life, although most will eventually succumb to the disease. Your cat needs a veterinary examination if they have FIP infection signs, which are variable, but may include:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Diarrhea
  • Pot-bellied appearance 
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Uncoordinated movement
  • Eye Inflammation
  • Yellowing of the skin 

Feline viral disease prevention for your cat

Ensuring your cat receives regular veterinary care and check-ups is the best insurance that they remain healthy and disease free. Currently, no effective FIV or FIP vaccinations are available, but, fortunately, an FeLV vaccination is available for unexposed cats. The American Association of Feline Practitioners recommends that most kittens receive two vaccinations, plus a booster at 12 months of age. Additionally, ensure your cat receives all recommended core vaccinations to prevent common cat diseases, which can make them more susceptible to an FIV or FIP infection. Other disease prevention tips include:

  • Keeping your cat indoors, to prevent disease exposure
  • Providing your cat with regular parasite control and good nutrition
  • Avoiding contact with unvaccinated cats
  • Scheduling twice yearly or more frequent veterinary visits for FeLV-, FIV-, or FIP-positive cats, to manage secondary infections or diseases
  • Avoiding bringing new FeLV- or FIV-negative cats into a home with an FeLV- or FIV-positive cat

Call our University Veterinary Hospital office if you have any questions about any of these feline viral diseases, or to schedule your cat for a preventive care examination.