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What pet parents should know about Feline Calicivirus Infection

Information about FCI will help determine whether or not your cat has contracted this virus.
Information about FCI will help determine whether or not your cat has contracted this virus.
VCA Animal Hospitals

So, all of a sudden your kitty has stopped eating and almost appears to be anorexic. Perhaps he or she has developed a fever, has leaky eyes or runny nose. What if the cat sticks out its tongue and it has developed ulcers on it, the hard palate, the tip of the nose and around their lips or claws? Perhaps kitty has symptoms resembling pneumonia, difficulty breathing, arthritis flares up and they appear lame; showing it is painful for them to walk. Or maybe they are bleeding from various sites all over their little body?

Well, one thing you should know is that these symptoms lead to what is called feline calicivirus; a common respiratory infection seen in cats. The frightening thing is that the symptoms come on suddenly as the virus attacks the respiratory tract, including the lungs, nasal passages and the mouth. The ulcerations mentioned can potentially go down into the intestines and into the musculoskeletal system.

Feline Calicivirus Infection or FCI, is highly communicable if your cat has not been vaccinated (vaccinations are strongly advised by veterinarians!) against it. It is typical in multi-cat facilities, shelters, poorly ventilated households and at breeding establishments for cats to spread this viral infection.

FCI, even if vaccinated for, still rears its ugly head in the feline community; injections failing to decrease the prevalence of the disease. Although any cat may be susceptible to FCI, it is especially prevalent in young kittens six weeks or older.

So what causes FCI? Most of the time it occurs after a cat has come into contact with another infected cat. The problem is that it is highly contaminable because the virus is resistant to disinfectants, so the virus may spread from environment to environment without being stopped. However, a cat that has not been vaccinated against it or has received an improper vaccination is much more susceptible. Any cat, though, that has a lowered immune response system may contract this virus.

Cats can transmit FCI in the following ways according to

· Direct contact – through contact with saliva, ocular or nasal secretions

· Inhalation of sneeze droplets

· Sharing or food bowls and litter trays

· A contaminated environment (including bedding and grooming aids) – FCV can potentially survive up to a month in the environment, although probably often does not survive more than 7-14 days.

If you believe your cat has been exposed and may have contracted the infection, it is best to get him or her to their veterinarian as soon as possible! The vet will be able to thoroughly examine all body systems in the cat, complete a blood profile (including a chemical blood profile) along with a complete blood count and urinalysis in order to prove or disprove if the cat is indeed infected. Many times, no matter how thorough the vet is though, the tests can prove to be non-specific and may not provide you or the veterinarian with consistent findings for an initial diagnosis.

There is a more reliable diagnostic test, but of course the cost is greater. It will identify a buildup of FCI antibodies which can then detect and measure the levels of the feline calicivirus antigen and/or the feline calicivirus or viral antigen itself. The tests are conducted in more controlled conditions using a technique called cell culture. The diagnostic imaging requirement can be used to determine the amount of damage to the lungs, including changes in lung tissue will determine the amount of consolidation of lung tissue if the cat has pneumonia.

Cats exposed to VCI will typically experience and incubation period of anywhere from two to six days and then the symptoms will set in. If there are no other complications that the cat is experiencing, the symptoms will most likely last for two to three weeks, but all of this depends on the particular disease agent. For that entire amount of time, you will have to keep your kitty quarantined since other cats will be susceptible if exposed.

After the two to three week period, as many as 50% of cats will develop a carrier state. If they do, they could potentially shed viral particles intermittently or constantly thereafter for a few months, although some cats will continue this for the duration of their lifetime.

During the time that the carrier cats are actively shedding virus particles, they will prove to be infectious to other susceptible cats. If the cats are female and pregnant, VCI could be passed on.

The takeaway from all of this is that you should always get your felines inoculated against VCI. It is better to be safe than sorry when it comes to this disease that could potentially affect your cat for life!

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