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FIV Cats Are At High Risk for the Flu!

Winter is here and temperatures are dropping! We’re wearing layers upon layers of clothing, putting heaters on blast, and sipping numerous amounts of hot cocoa; doing everything we can to keep ourselves warm and toasty. But what about our feline friends? If we can’t stand the cold, then neither can they!

Cats, by nature, are lovers of heat and they’ll be the last ones to rejoice when temperatures start dropping below freezing. Not to mention, cold weather can reduce immune response, making it easier for harmful pathogens to invade the body. That means this wintertide season, everyone is in danger of contracting the flu, especially FIV cats.


What’s Cat Flu?

Cat flu, or upper respiratory tract infection (URTI), is a common disease in cats, especially those that have conditions that suppress the immune system, like FIV. The severity of the illness generally varies from one cat to another, depending on their age and health status. In some cats, it only causes mild symptoms, like fever and sneezing, but in others, it paves the way to more severe and even life-threatening conditions, like pneumonia, malnutrition, and dehydration.


What Causes Cat Flu?

There are a number of pathogens that can cause cat flu, but the two most common are the feline calicivirus and feline herpes virus, which cause about 90% of the upper respiratory tract infections that occur in cats. Other causes include the bacterium bordatella bronchiseptica, which is known to cause sneezing, coughing, and nasal discharge, and the bacterium chlamydophila felis, which causes of feline conjunctivitis (inflammation of the lining, outer covering, and whites of the eyes).


What Does Cat Flu Look Like?

Just like in humans, cat flu may start as a fever, accompanied by sneezing, coughing, eye and nose discharge, loss of appetite, conjunctivitis, and weakness or lethargy. As it progresses, ulcers may also start forming around the mouth, which can cause cats to start drooling excessively. If left untreated or treated too late, cat flu can cause secondary infections, like pneumonia, to develop. Loss of appetite may also lead to malnutrition, dehydration, and in some cases, death.


How Do Vets Know It’s Cat Flu?

If you suspect that your FIV cat has the flu, your veterinarian may start by asking you about the behavioral changes you’ve noticed. This will help them rule out other potential causes. To confirm if it’s really cat flu and find out the specific pathogen that caused it, your veterinarian will collect a swab sample from your cat’s eyes and mouth and send it to the lab to be cultured and analyzed through a PCR test or polymerase chain reaction test (detects viral genes).


How Is Cat Flu Treated?

While cat flu doesn’t have a specific cure, it’s usually treatable through veterinary attention and supportive care, which often involves antibiotics or antivirals to fight secondary infections, temporary diet changes to prevent malnutrition, IV fluids to prevent dehydration, and injectable interferons to boost the immune defense system. However, if a cat has existing medical conditions, like FIV, or taking medications, additional tests may need to be done to ensure safety and prevent drug interactions.


How Can I Protect My FIV Cat from the Flu?

The best way to protect your FIV cat from the flu is through vaccination. Although it doesn’t provide 100% protection, it does significantly reduce your cat’s chances of coming down with the disease. If you have multiple cats in the household, make sure that they all get the flu shot. If one of them becomes infected, isolate the sick cat in a separate room that’s easy to clean and inaccessible to your other pets.

Additionally, make a habit of cleaning and disinfecting the household, as well as your FIV cat’s belongings, regularly. Use a daily disinfectant, like Lysol or KennelSol, to clean tables, counters, shelves, floors, and other surfaces, every day. Once or twice a month, do general cleaning and trade in your daily disinfectant for diluted bleach (1 part bleach, 30 parts water). This will keep pathogens from accumulating inside your home and prevent your FIV cat, as well as other members of the family, from contracting diseases, such as the flu.


Has your FIV cat ever had the flu? What about you? We’d love to read about your experiences down below!