Both older cats and young kittens generally have weak immune systems. This subjects them to certain agents that can pose a major threat to their health. There are many viruses that cause cat flu, but 80 to 90 percent of them are caused by feline herpes viruses. They are generally of two types―feline herpes virus type 1 (FHV-1), also known as the feline rhinotracheitis virus (FVR), and the feline calicivirus (FCV).
The eyes, ears, nose, and mouth are the various pathways through which a virus finds entry into a cat's body. Unhygienic food and contaminated water increases the risk of cat flu. Generally, an FHV-1 infection is risky, and spreads fast in cats. Stress is a basic problem that increases the probability of getting infected with the aforementioned virus. Stress is usually the result if they are uncomfortable in their living area. This may be due to an overcrowded place and/or lack of proper sanitation. Often, cats become uncomfortable with the arrival of a new member (cat or any other pet), and that may also trigger stress in them. Also, excessive cold makes cats more vulnerable to viruses.
Cats infected with the feline rhinotracheitis virus may show different signs as per their age and the severity of the case. Usually, the incubation period is 2 - 17 days. The most dangerous sign of cat flu is the severe loss of its appetite. The cat may not eat anything for long hours, and grow weak as a result of it. Fever is common, and running nose/eyes makes the situation worse. Heavy mucus secretions ooze out from the eyes, and drooling occurs frequently. The saliva that comes out of the mouth is very contagious, and it spreads the virus to other cats. The lower part of the eyes swell up, and eyes squint in most cases. Cats become very lethargic due to the weakness caused by loss of appetite.
Diagnosis is a crucial part in the treatment of this virus. Samples of mucus from the eyes are taken and tested for the herpes virus. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing and virus isolation are the two commonly conducted tests. If the cat is suffering for two weeks or longer, then it must be tested for feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus.
Cat flu is basically a contagious disease. In long-term treatment, they are not hospitalized but treated at home in a hygienic environment. But still, if the case is very severe, it's better to hospitalize the cat. Since the digestive system suffers severely from this disease, it must be ensured that the cat has regular food and water, or else it may grow weak and show worse signs. Due to the inability of the cat to smell food, it may be unable to show any response towards the food as well. Assisted feeding or force feeding may be required. Fluid therapy or putting a tube inside the stomach of the cat may be employed to give the cat sufficient amount of nutrition. The eyes and nose are also badly hit, with continuous mucous discharge and sneezing. It is necessary to clean the nasal passage of the cat by using a vaporizer in the room or by using the medicines advised by a veterinarian. Relaxing the animal is also important, as it may show extreme anxiety or restlessness. On the prescription of the veterinarian, one may also use antibiotics in order to treat bacterial infections. Any cuts, wounds, or other lesions must be treated with proper medication, as they increase the chances of aggravating the disease. Once a cat is affected by the feline herpes virus, it may become a lifetime carrier of the virus, or what we normally call a chronic carrier.
Prevention, as we all know, is better than cure, so care must be taken to keep cats clean, provide them with a proper space to live in, play, and be themselves. At the time pregnancy, it is best to consult a veterinarian.