Calicivirus in Cats: Calicivirus is a highly contagious virus that affects cats. It’s one of the most common causes of upper respiratory infections in felines. The virus causes flu-like symptoms such as:
- Discharge from the eyes and nose
- Loss of appetite
The calicivirus is spread through direct contact with infected saliva, nasal secretions, and eye discharge. It enters through the mouth and nose, infecting the upper respiratory tract. Unfortunately, some cats may become carriers of the virus after recovering and continue to shed it in their saliva and secretions, infecting other cats.
How Is It Diagnosed and Treated?
Your vet can diagnose calicivirus with a blood test or by analyzing a sample of eye or nose discharge. Unfortunately, there is no cure for the virus itself. Treatment focuses on managing symptoms and preventing secondary infections. This may include:
- Antibiotics if a bacterial infection develops
- Fluids to avoid dehydration
- Eye ointments for conjunctivitis
- Appetite stimulants
You’ll also need to isolate your cat from other pets to avoid spreading the infection. Disinfect food bowls, litter boxes, bedding, and any other surfaces the cat has come into contact with.
The good news is most cats recover from calicivirus within 7 to 10 days with treatment and supportive care. However, some may become chronic carriers of the virus. Talk to your vet about vaccination, especially for cats that go outdoors or live in close contact with other felines. Prevention is always better than cure!
Common Symptoms of Feline Calicivirus
If your cat is infected with the feline calicivirus, you may notice several symptoms. The most common signs include:
- Nasal discharge: Your cat may have a runny nose with clear, watery discharge. This can lead to sneezing, coughing, and wheezing.
- Conjunctivitis: Infection of the eyes, known as pink eye, leads to discharge, redness, and swelling. Your cat may squint or rub their eyes frequently.
- Ulcerations: Painful sores can form on the nose, mouth, eyes, and footpads. These ulcers make it painful for your cat to eat, see, walk or groom themselves.
- Lethargy: Lack of energy and enthusiasm. Your usually playful cat may seem uncharacteristically tired, unwilling to play or interact.
- Fever: An elevated body temperature, often over 103 F. You may notice your cat feels warm to the touch and is seeking out cool surfaces.
In severe cases, the calicivirus can lead to pneumonia or more systemic infections requiring intensive care. See your vet right away if your cat shows symptoms of labored breathing, loss of appetite, or bloody discharge from the nose or mouth.
The calicivirus is highly contagious between cats, especially in places like shelters, catteries, and multi-cat homes. Isolate your infected cat from other pets in the household to avoid spreading the virus. Practice good hygiene like washing hands, changing clothes, and disinfecting surfaces that may have come into contact with the infected cat’s saliva or nasal secretions which contain the virus.
Treatment for feline calicivirus focuses on managing symptoms and preventing secondary infections. Your vet may prescribe:
- Antibiotics if there are signs of pneumonia or other bacterial infections.
- Eye ointments for conjunctivitis.
- IV or subcutaneous fluids for dehydration.
- Pain medication for ulcerations.
- Anti-viral drugs in some cases.
With treatment and supportive care, most cats recover from feline calicivirus within 7 to 14 days. However, some cats can become chronic carriers of the virus and have periodic flare-ups of symptoms.
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Treatment Options for Cats With Calicivirus
When your cat is diagnosed with calicivirus, the vet will discuss treatment options with you based on the severity of symptoms. The goals are to relieve discomfort, prevent secondary infections, and support your cat as their immune system works to overcome the virus.
Cats with calicivirus often become dehydrated from fever, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Your vet may administer intravenous (IV) fluids to replenish lost fluids and electrolytes. You’ll also be instructed to encourage your cat to drink at home by offering bone broths, wet food, and kitten replacement formula. Providing multiple water bowls in easy-to-reach areas can also help.
To reduce fever and relieve discomfort, your vet may prescribe antinausea medication, pain medication, and/or corticosteroids. Antibiotics are usually not prescribed for calicivirus itself but may be used if a secondary bacterial infection develops.
There are several things you can do at home to keep your cat comfortable as they recover:
- Offer soft, easily digestible foods like baby food, canned pumpkin, or meat-based baby food. These provide nutrients without irritating an upset stomach.
- Gently wipe your cat’s eyes and nose with a warm washcloth to remove discharge and keep membranes moist. Apply eye lubricant as directed by your vet.
- Confine your cat to a small room with a litter box, bed, food, and water to limit activity while they recover.
- Weigh your cat daily to ensure they do not become dehydrated or experience significant weight loss. Alert your vet if your cat loses more than a few ounces per day.
- Monitor your cat for worsening symptoms like difficulty breathing, seizures, or pale gums and contact your vet immediately.
- Disinfect food bowls, litter boxes, bedding, and any other items your cat has contact with to prevent reinfection once they recover.
With supportive care and time, most cats will recover from calicivirus within 7 to 10 days. However, some cats may develop chronic infections that require ongoing treatment and management. In severe cases, hospitalization may be required. Close monitoring and follow-up with your vet is important, especially for young, old or immunocompromised cats.