RESPIRATORY SYSTEM FELINE RESPIRATORY DISEASE COMPLEX (FRDC)
WHEN TO SEEK VETERINARY HELP FOR FRDC
Respiratory infection in which the signs are mild—small amounts of watery eye and/or nose discharge and a few sneezes unaccompanied by fever—usually do not require veterinary care if the cat is eating normally (or near normally) and does not seem unduly depressed. Cases accompanied by any of the following signs should alert you to have your cat examined by a veterinarian: persistent fever, lack of appetite, marked listlessness, dehydration, puslike eye or nose discharges, or cough (a sign that the infection may include the lower air passages or that pneumonia may be present). Prompt and intensive treatment is necessary to avoid undesirable aftereffects of respiratory infections.
AGENTS CAUSING RESPIRATORY INFECTION IN CATS
TREATMENT OF RESPIRATORY INFECTION
In most instances you will be responsible for the major portion of treatment of respiratory illnesses in your cat. Veterinarians are reluctant to hospitalize cases of viral respiratory infection unless absolutely necessary because these diseases are contagious to other cats and can contaminate the hospital. The first step in home treatment of respiratory infection (even the most mild) is to keep your cat indoors. This protects the cat from the stress of temperature changes, prevents the cat from disappearing while sick, and also helps prevent transmission of the infection to other cats in the neighborhood. If possible, make an attempt to isolate your sick cat from any other cats to prevent spread of the infection.
Change your outer clothes and wash your hands each time you medicate or handle the sick cat; provide separate food and water bowls and litter pan for the affected cat. These precautions are difficult in most household situations and in some instances impossible. If you own a cattery, such precautions are a must; ask your veterinarian for additional help. Further nursing care consists of keeping a daily temperature record and the administration of antibiotics (in most cases to control secondary bacterial infection that occurs after the cat is weakened by the original infection), decongestants, eye medications, and vitamins as directed by your veterinarian, and hand-feeding as necessary. Since most sick cats do not groom themselves well, gentle removal of eye and nose crusts with a soft tissue or cotton ball moistened with warm water and daily bushing go a long way in making a sick cat look and feel better.
Cats who have extreme congestion of the nasal passages may benefit by the twice daily (no more) administration of 0.025% oxymetazoline or 0.25% aqueous phenylephrine nose drops (one drop into each nostril twice a day for no longer than three days) and by the use of a vaporizer for fifteen to thirty minutes about three times a day. (If you don’t have access to a vaporizer you can run a hot shower until the bathroom is steamy and place your cat in the bathroom for fifteen to thirty minutes). In respiratory infections treated at home it is often necessary to work closely with your veterinarian on an outpatient basis.
Injections of fluids to control dehydration and of antibiotics can be given as necessary, and periodic evaluation of your cat’s progress can be made by an expert. Sometimes close cooperation between you and your veterinarian is not sufficient, and hospitalization is necessary.
AFTEREFFECTS OF FRDC
Although prolonged treatment is necessary in severe cases of respiratory infection (more than two weeks in some), complete recovery usually occurs. Some cats (usually neglected cases, or kittens or cats suffering from other concurrent infections) suffer permanent damage to the tissues lining the eye, sinuses, or nasal passages. These cats may have a constant clear discharge from the nose and/or eye. Some with sinus damage have a recurrent or persistent cloudy discharge from the nose accompanied by sneezing and signs of nasal congestion. Cats left with such problems following respiratory infection are not always disabled but need examination and treatment by a veterinarian to determine whether the problem can be cured. Another aftereffect of respiratory disease is that many recovered cats remain carriers of the disease. Although apparently healthy, they can spread the infection to susceptible cats, and when stressed (e.g., boarded away from home) or treated with corticosteroid drugs (e.g., prednisone) may have milder recurrences of signs of infection.
The most severe respiratory infection problems in cats are found where large numbers of cats are kept together with inadequate sanitary precautions, as is often the case in substandard breeding operations, boarding kennels, pet shops, and grooming parlors. Infections can be acquired in veterinary hospitals as well, but the problem occurs there less often because most veterinarians know how to use all sanitary precautions available to avoid exposure of uninfected cats. The average pet owner can prevent feline upper respiratory infection by keeping his or her cat indoors, by avoiding handling stray cats, by avoiding boarding the cat whenever possible, and by isolating new cats until they are free of signs of disease for at least one month and are fully vaccinated. Catteries and other multicat households must follow special precautions to avoid contamination of the premises and repeated problems with respiratory infection.
1. House only small groups of cats (less than ten) together and give each cat his or her separate pen. Enclosures for individuals should be
constructed and placed so that it is impossible for one cat to sneeze on another or to engage in mutual grooming that will allow the exchange of salivary or respiratory secretions. Cats should not be moved from pen to pen before the new pen is thoroughly disinfected.
2. Keep cats in well-ventilated areas with a minimum of ten air exchanges occurring per hour. The temperature and humidity should be kept constant. Uncontrolled and extreme temperature fluctuations are stressful, and high humidity encourages the survival of organisms associated with respiratory infection.
3. Provide isolation and quarantine facilities. Sick cats should be removed from the cattery at the first sign of any illness and quarantined for at least two weeks (preferably for one month) after recovery. All new cats to be introduced to the colony and all cats taken off the premises to places where they are likely to be exposed to disease should be quarantined for a minimum of one month before introduction to the other group members. During this time they can be observed for any signs of illness and tested for disease. Cats suspected of carrying respiratory disease-causing organisms should ideally never be introduced to the group.
Kittens should be kept only with their own littermates and mother and be completely isolated from exposure to other cats. Where there are preexisting problems with carrier cats, kittens will have to be weaned at four to five weeks of age and vaccinated early to avoid infection by their own mother as their nursing-derived immunity wanes. A properly managed multicat household or cattery will need at least five distinct areas for housing cats—a common area where healthy adult cats are housed, a maternity ward for pregnant and/or nursing females and their kittens, a nursery for kittens that are weaned, a quarantine room for apparently healthy incoming cats, and an isolation room for obviously sick cats.
Most individuals experienced in raising cats find it necessary to have a separate facility for unneutered males and a separate nursery for each litter. Ideally each cat in quarantine or isolation should be housed there alone.
4. Follow good sanitary practices to prevent the spread of disease-causing organisms that can travel from cat to cat via inanimate objects such as clothing, grooming tools, and by hand. Thoroughly wash and disinfect all food and water pans and thoroughly disinfect all cage surfaces before transferring a new cat to a previously occupied pen. Good disinfectants are liquid household bleach (5.25% sodium hypochlorite, mixed 1 part bleach to 30 parts water, 4 oz/gallon (30 ml/liter), and quaternary ammonium compounds.
Objects need to be soaked in disinfectants for at least 5 minutes after washing to be disinfected, then rinsed in clear, clean water before use. Do not provide bedding, rugs, or furniture that cannot be washed and adequately disinfected. Your outer clothing should be changed and your hands should be thoroughly washed before you feed or handle healthy cats, after treating sick cats or following exposure to cats not members of the group. In many cases your footwear will have to be changed and/or disinfected to stop the spread of infections.
5. Vaccinate cats against feline viral rhinotracheitis, feline calicivirus infection, and Chlamydia psittaci infection. Although the vaccines were once thought to be extremely effective, the nature of immunity to these infectious agents results in some occasional, but inevitable vaccination difficulties. Vaccination cannot prevent some cats from carrying these agents, even though it may prevent them from showing outward signs of illness.
Vaccination for feline viral rhinotracheitis is highly effective in preventing signs of infection in individual pet cats, but it is less effective in multiple cat households, especially those that do not follow strict guidelines for disease prevention. The crowding and stress found in such environments favor the development of signs of respiratory infection despite vaccination and increase the frequency of virus shedding by cats who become virus carriers.
Both feline calicivirus and feline Chlamydia vaccines have been found to be less effective against strains of the organisms found naturally than those that were used in the laboratory to develop the vaccines. This means that vaccinated cats may still develop signs of infection caused by these organisms. Usually, however, the signs are much less severe and less prolonged than those in unvaccinated cats. Even if no signs of infection occur, vaccination may not prevent the development of a carrier state.
Nevertheless, it is customary to control signs of calicivirus infection by vaccination. Vaccination against Chlamydia infection is often limited to cats who reside in multicat environments that have been proven to have a problem with this infection. In general, vaccines for this infection provide limited immunity of short duration and are thought to increase the incidence of adverse vaccine reactions when combined with other vaccines.
You and your veterinarian will have to decide which vaccine products are needed based on your cat’s age, likelihood of exposure, and the vaccine products currently available. Multicat households may have success in eliminating Chlamydia infection by antibiotic treatment of all cats at once whether or not they show signs of infection.
Normally, vaccination against agents of respiratory infection is given concurrent with panleukopenia immunization starting at six to ten weeks of age. Kittens born into multiple cat households may need to start vaccination earlier when problems with respiratory infection exist.
Vaccines are repeated at two- to four-week intervals until the kitten is twelve to sixteen weeks of age.