Cat’s that are well looked after generally seldom suffer from any too serious illness. From time to time though a cat may contract a serious disease for which there is no prevention and no cure. Typically there are 3 diseases in cat’s that make not only the owner shudder, but also the veterinarian – these are virus diseases I.e. Leucaemia, corona-virus and aids.
Feline Leaucaemia virus (felv): this is a serious disease in cats caused by a virus infection, which still remains one of the most important causes of disease and death in cats. It is a complex disease with no specific symptoms but many different components – leaucaemia (cancer of white blood cells) and tumerous growths are only a small part, other diseases that may form part of this complex can include anaemia, ulcers of the mouth, skin lesions, reproductive problems such as miscarriages and weak or dying kittens (fading kitten syndrome), chronic digestive and respiratory problem, less ability to fight diseases and a weak immune system – so many different problems can be involved due to the fact that the virus impairs the cat’s immune system and as a result there is nothing to fight other viruses, bacteria and fungi which cause further disease. The disease is spread if infected cats have direct contact with a healthy cat. It is usually transmitted in the saliva, but can also be found to some extent in urine, faeces and tears. Licking, biting and sneezing are common forms of transmission. Food and water dishes and litter boxes are sources of infection. If a healthy cat never has contact with other cats, it is unlikely that it will contract the disease, however, a kitten which appears healthy may already be born infected by the mother and if one’s “protected” cat accidentally escapes and unexpectedly comes into contact with another cat or needs to be kenneled, the risk of exposure to the virus increases dramatically. Signs which could be a warning as to the fact that one’s cat is infected include: long lasting difficult-to-get-rid-of infections, unexplained weight loss, reduced appetite, swollen glands or gum problems – the only sure way to know is to have your cat tested with a blood test. If the blood test is positive there are three (3) possible outcomes:
1. +/-40% of cats develop an immunity and become resistant to future infections.
2.+/- 30% become carriers of the disease – neither seriously affected but also not fully recovered these cats can at any time be susceptible to the disease or pass it on to their off spring.
3. +/- 30% of infected cats are permanently affected and off these about 83% will probably die within 3 years of becoming infected.
Unfortunately the blood test can not ascertain into which group your cat falls.
What preventative measures should an owner take:
1. Limit contact with other cats (this isn’t always possible or practical) but make sure at least that your cat is sterilized or neutered to lesson “contact-urge”
2. Limit stress –factors on your cat.
3. Have your cat vaccinated with the latest vaccine – it may be a little more expensive, but worth it. The vaccine routine is best started at 6 weeks of age, when it is less likely that the cat will already be infected, with 2 boosters at monthly intervals and then yearly. There is no evidence that the disease is in any way dangerous to humans.
Feline infections peritonitis (fip): this is a contagious viral disease of domestic and wild cats world-wide. It is induced by a strain of corona-virus and affects one or more systems of the body – either in what is called a “wet” form and a “dry” form. Even with treatment death is almost a 100% surety – there is no official cure.
In the early stages of the infection the cat may show no symptoms, but there may be little “tell-tale” signs such as fever without reason, diarrhoea, eye infections and respiratory symptoms. This stage can last for days, weeks or months before signs of wet or dry FIP develop. In the wet form the abdomen fills with fluid and the owner notices the tummy swelling – more symptoms appear as more and more organs are affected e.g. jaundice (yellow gums) as the liver is involved, loss of appetite, fever, depression (it is painful as the fluid accumulates) and the most distressing – struggling to breathe as the fluid also affects the lining of the lungs.
In the dry form most organs are also affected leading to kidney and liver failure and even spinal chord involvement – this could lead to a slow painful death. Two other very rare forms of FIP also occur which can affect the eyes and the brain (cat gets seizures/fits and appears demented). Most FIP infections probably result from ingestion of the virus, but aerosol (in the air as with flu) transmission is also suspected. Mainly faeces and saliva are the big culprits. There is no evidence that mother’s pass the virus to their kittens (although infected mother’s may miscarriage or give birth to weak kittens), neither can matings or bites be held responsible.
Sadly there is no accurate way to diagnose the disease- a combination of blood tests and systems may bring one closer to an answer, but most cats – healthy or not, when tested for corona-virus, will test positive, as there are many cross-strains, which are related, to which a cat will have had contact at some stage of its life. So, even a cat with a high virus titre in its blood, doesn’t necessarily have FIP! (it only means the cat has been exposed to “a” corona-virus). Only a post-mortem will give an accurate diagnosis. Unfortunately there is no available vaccine for this dreadful disease. One’s best bet is to maintain excellent hygiene (especially in the litter box), make sure one’s cat is not overly – exposed to stressful situations (e.g. too many matings) and to boost and support your cat’s immune-system – this means regular deworming, routine vaccinations and immune – stimulators (there are mainly natural & homeopathic remedies such as moducare/eco-immune/eco-colostrum). The virus doesn’t survive for longer than 3 weeks and basic disinfectant will kill it. If one has lost a cat to FIP, one should wait 3-6 months before getting a new kitten.
Feline aids: this virus causes an immunodeficiency by causing the body’s immune system to fight itself, thereby rendering the body incompetent to deal with other infections (bacteria/virus/fungi). Infected cats have very few white blood cells (the body’s protectors) and their ability to build antibodies against “foreign invaders” is majorly decreased. Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is commonly called feline “aids”, as the virus in the cats’ has similar effects in a cats body as what the human virus has on a human body. There is in no way any correlation between the two and infected cats pose no threat to humans. In fact in cats the cause is a Lenti-virus; in humans a retro-virus. The virus occurs mainly in domestic cats world-wide and cheetah and lion (it is speculated that 80% of the Kruger Park lions are infected). The virus is shed mainly in saliva and body fluids and the main forms of infection are through bites and sexual transmission – for this reason roaming male cats tend to be at greatest risk. After infection there may be a short period of fever and swollen lymph nodes from which most cats recover. It may take months or years before a deficiency in the immune system occurs, leading to many different symptoms, depending on which system/s or organ/s is affected. Cats with aids suffer chronically from secondary and opportunistic infections of the respiratory, gastro-intestinal (mouth too) and urinary tract and the skin.
Blood tests are accurate to determine whether a cat is infected – there is no known cure or vaccine. It is a matter of treating the infections as they appear and keeping the cat comfortable. Faids is uncommon in closed pure-bred catteries. Neutering your tom cat at an early age, as well as your queen just seems to make sense!