In this article we talk about another infectious disease that affects the cat: we talk about the cat calicivirus, a virus that brings one of the most common infectious diseases for our four-legged friend.
Along with infectious rhinotracheitis and panleukopenia, the feline calicivirus is the virus that is part of the cat’s trivalent vaccine, which contains the diseases no longer dangerous, but certainly more contagious, always remembering that the infectious diseases of cats are particularly widespread in the environment and a little ‘all over Italy.
In this article we will find out what the calicivirus is, how it is transmitted, what the symptoms are and how it is possible to treat the symptoms caused by its action.
Feline calicivirus: what it is and how it is transmitted
Calicivirus is one of the most infectious viruses with which a cat can come into contact, and it is almost impossible (I underline the almost, but only in very rare cases it heals definitively) that it goes away from the cat’s body. This means that if a cat is infected by the virus it will remain a lifelong carrier, infecting other cats at the same time.
The feline calicivirus is transmitted by contact between cat and cat, mainly due to the nasal and conjunctival discharge, and being a particularly infectious virus it is sufficient for two cats to come into contact with each other to get the infection.
The vaccine, among other things, is protective to a certain extent, because the cat can still get infected: this is due to the particular biology of the virus. Read also: Vaccines in the cat
The calicivirus is in fact very unstable from the genetic point of view, which means that its RNA (is an RNA virus, does not have DNA) tends to change a lot as it reproduces.
Let’s take a practical example to better understand this mutation.
- If the RNA in the virus that enters the Ace cat has an RNA composed of the sequence (of fantasy, of course) AAAAAAAA;
- When it is transmitted to the whisker cat its RNA could be AAAABAAA.
- When he comes out of whisker he will enter the cat Ciccio could be AACABAAA;
- When it will come out of Ciccio and it will enter Dodo be AACABADA.
From this simple example we can understand how this virus is so variable and changeable that the virus that the cat takes from another cat is completely different from the vaccine. Of course, vaccination is important because the vaccine tries to protect against the strains that we know are causing the worst symptoms.
This change, however, is a problem for both veterinarians and owners, because it makes it difficult both to protect the virus permanently and to diagnose it.
The virus is very resistant in the environment, because it can withstand at least a month, and this is one of the characteristics that make transmission more frequent.
Despite this change, however, it should be noted that the calicivirus, like practically all the other viruses, is transmitted only from cat to cat, so the cat-man transmission or the cat-dog transmission are not possible.
Calicivirus in the cat: symptoms
The symptoms of calicivirus are mainly borne by the mouth and the respiratory system, although in some cases it may reproduce in different body systems, such as the skin. They include:
The mouth ulcers, which are the main symptoms that make the calicivirus particularly recognizable, especially compared to the cat’s Herpesvirus. These ulcers, among other things, make it very difficult for the cat to eat, and we know that for a cat the prolonged fasting is harmful. However, the cat is so sick that it is the first owner to take it to the veterinary clinic.
There are nasal and eye problems, with sneezing, nasal discharge and conjunctival drain.
The cat has a fever, is debilitated, is dehydrated and there are all the non-specific symptoms typical of infectious diseases.
From the moment of infection, the cat begins to show symptoms after about a week, after the incubation time of the virus. Note that the symptoms are very similar to those of feline Herpesvirus, which causes infectious rhinotracheitis.
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Diagnosis of feline Calicivirus
Usually the owner turns to the vet because the symptoms we have just talked about are very debilitating for the cat. To date, there is no definitive therapy for calicivirus, which is why what the vet will do is support vital functions, such as feeding, as well as avoiding secondary infections due to opportunistic bacteria.
Before this, however, we must understand whether it is actually calicivirus or not: to do it first of all we rely on the symptoms, which usually allow to distinguish it from other diseases, while to be safer you can send a swab to the laboratory oral from the cat’s mouth. Unfortunately, however, there is the possibility of false negatives, so the diagnosis is never completely certain.
The serum test (taking blood and looking for antibodies, such as human pregnancy tests but done on blood and not on urine) is not much use, because if the cat has been vaccinated, it is the antibodies that may have been induced by the vaccine, and this tells us virtually nothing.
However, if the symptoms are compatible it is assumed that the infection is caused by the Calicivirus, for two reasons: the first is prevention, that is, trying to isolate the cat from others that could be infected (if it was not then better glasses, but if you are not sure…); the second is that there is no specific therapy, as we shall see shortly, so the goal is always to support the cat in overcoming the disease.
Feline calicivirus: therapy
As for the therapy, the cat’s Calicivirus is treated according to the symptoms it shows, because as we said before there is not a “magic” drug able to eliminate it.
The veterinarian, for the treatment of feline Calicivirus, will then proceed with anti-inflammatories, pain relievers to remove the pain (especially in the mouth, because of ulcers), and then trying to lower the fever, in case even with a rehydrating therapy for the cat , which usually does not eat and does not drink. Antibiotics can also be provided to avoid bacterial infections that could “take advantage” of the moment of weakness, because giving an antibiotic to the calicivirus makes no sense, being a virus.
As far as nutrition is concerned, a liquid feeding is recommended, made with ready-made foods (usually found in pharmacies) or made in-house, placed in a syringe and provided in this way; this avoids that solid food, like meat or crunchy, rubs on the ulcers of the mouth causing even more pain to the cat that, consequently, will tend not to eat. Nutrition is not made by chance, but must be able to support the cat in a very debilitating moment like this.
Note that the symptoms can be very variable, and with them the therapy: they vary depending on the malice of the virus, if we can call it that, and they vary according to the immune defenses of the cat, which may be more or less protective towards the calicivirus: elderly cats, especially if they suffer from renal failure, are for example particularly subjected to more severe symptoms than other cats.
Particular attention must be paid to cats that live in the house: usually these cats are not infected by Calicivirus, but if they come into contact with other cats, things can change, because the infection with calicivirus in cats will be very likely in this case. In addition, usually the immune system of the cat that lives at home is weaker than that of the cat living outside, so it is easier that, in this case, the symptoms are more serious.
Reason why a cat that lives at home should avoid coming into contact with other cats, especially those living outdoors, because in this case the infection from