Cat flu is a common contagious disease, which only affects cats.
It is not really one disease at all. Instead, there are at least three different viruses that cause the flu-like symptoms: Feline Herpes Virus, Feline Calicivirus and Feline Chlamydia.
These can all cause sore eyes with a lot of eye discharge, and the first two give rise to sneezing and sore mouths.
The calicivirus can also cause lameness when the virus affects limb joints and may produce large raw ulcers in the mouth and on the tongue and nose.
Infected kittens show severe symptoms and may die from secondary pneumonia or loose eyes, if they develop severe conjunctivitis before their eyes open properly.
Flu viruses are very widespread in Irish cats and many colonies of feral or wild cats are continually shedding the infective organisms. Affected animals cough and sneeze and pass on droplets of virus particles to other cats.
Many cats are carriers of the disease. These carriers will, in most cases, have had flu symptoms themselves and then recovered from the disease. They may seem perfectly healthy and not show any signs of illness, or some may have minor symptoms such as a runny eye or a watery nose - but they are a danger to other cats as they pass on the virus when they meet up.
This infection when animals meet is called direct transmission of disease. This may not happen very often if cats are kept indoors most of the time, or if there is a small number of cats in the neighbourhood. On the other hand, if there is a lot of mixing between neighbourhood cats and wild cats, the condition can keep on showing up in cats that are unprotected.
Luckily, the viruses are not very hardy and do not last long outside the cat, but it is often long enough for indirect transmission to be important. This means that cats do not have to meet one another for the disease to spread. Instead, one cat can pass the virus onto a dish, scratching post or other object and then go away. Another cat can pick up the virus if it visits the same dish or post a short time later.
Cat flu is usually not a fatal disease although affected animals may become very ill and may be distressed for two or three weeks. Drugs do not usually kill the viruses but secondary bacterial infections attack weakened cats and often makes the condition worse.
Vets will usually use antibiotics and other supportive medication to avoid complications and speed up recovery.
Cats with flu loose their appetites, especially if they have blocked noses and are unable to smell their food properly.
They may then become dehydrated if they do not drink enough liquid. Dehydration can lead to life threatening complications and must be prevented by hand feeding or intravenous fluid therapy.
Please contact your vet immediately if your cat shows any signs of Cat Flu.