Frequently Asked Questions
Some typical questions about flu from breeders are shown below. In all cases, it is essential to involve your vet if your cats suffer from an outbreak of flu. Your vet may want to speak to one of the veterinary schools for advice with each individual disease problem.
Can my cats catch flu at a cat show?
Unfortunately the answer is probably yes. In a 1994 survey of cats which were at several shows in the UK, between 20 and 30% of the cats present were found to be shedding FCV and about 1% were shedding FHV. It is notable that these cats were all apparently healthy and had passed vetting in. Though disinfectants are used between cats it is certainly possible that transmission could occur at shows from coats or other equipment used by vets, judges or stewards, not to mention the risk from the public touching cats.
It must also be borne in mind that going to shows constitutes a ‘stress’ and that many FHV carriers would be expected to shed FHV following stress – in some cases with signs of disease. So a cat that gets flu after a show may not have picked it up there – the stress of going to the show could have caused the reappearance of the disease.
I have had flu in several litters. How can I find out which infection is present?
If you have a problem with cat flu in a breeding cattery, then your vet may have a suspicion of which infection is present on the symptoms your cat/kittens are showing, but you will probably need to do some tests to be sure. In order to look for the viruses, your vet needs to take a mouth swab and place it in special medium supplied by the laboratory.
A second swab has to be taken and placed in different medium to look for Bordetella species. These tests can only be done at specialist laboratories, often the University Veterinary Schools working on these infections.
I have had flu in my cattery and FHV has been found. What should I do?
A diagnosis of FHV infection in a breeding cattery can be very serious. If found in kittens, they have presumably caught it from other cats in the household, suggesting the household has at least one carrier cat. Though the queen is the number one suspect it is very important to remember that with FHV cats shed only intermittently – so ‘negative’ cats in the household may still be carriers, they just don’t happen to be shedding at that time. Infected queens tend to infect every litter of kittens born to them, often while they are quite young.
Depending upon the age at which the kittens become infected they may or may not become ill. Sometimes, the immunity passed from the queen in her milk protects the kittens from clinical signs but still allows them to be infected and become carriers. At other times the infection causes severe disease in the kittens. If the queen produces successive litters of badly affected kittens, unless she is extremely valuable to the gene pool the best advice is usually to neuter and rehome her – the only other alternative is to isolate, early wean and hand rear the kittens.
One of my cats has a positive swab for FCV. What should I do?
FCV is very common in the breeding cat population. As many strains are present, the best course of action rather depends upon individual circumstances. If, for example, many litters of kittens get severe signs of flu, then the best course of action will usually be to stop breeding and to wait a few months before testing the cats again. This approach may allow the detection of carrier cats and their removal or continued isolation from the rest of the cattery.
In my last litter of kittens, two have died and Bordetella species was found at post mortem examination. What should I do now?
Because bordetella is a bacterium, the infection can be treated with antibiotics. It is best to test the specific strain isolated from individual catteries to judge which antibiotic it is best to use. It is not known whether the use of antibiotics will prevent cats from becoming carriers, as this research has not yet been done. In other species it can be difficult to eliminate the infection from individual animals, though the signs of disease can often be controlled.
All my cats are vaccinated correctly. Why have I got flu in my cattery?
The available vaccines do a very good job of preventing disease due to FCV and FHV, both in the general population and in catteries. However, no vaccine is 100% effective all the time in every animal.
Factors involved in this include:
- Strain variation: some strains appear to be more virulent than others, causing more severe disease and may be able to ‘break through’ vaccine induced immunity. Particularly with FCV, the current vaccines do not protect against all strains, so disease is still possible even in vaccinated cats.
- Young, susceptible kittens are born into or brought into the breeding household, where there are often a large number of cats that may be carriers. The presence of carrier cats is particularly important – these cats can infect kittens before they are usually considered old enough to be vaccinated. In special circumstances it is possible to vaccinate kittens at a younger age, but this must be discussed carefully with your vet.
- Vaccinated cats, though usually protected against the disease, can still become infected and can become carriers.
- There is now an intranasal vaccination available in the UK which appears to be giving good immunity against Bordetella.
If you are vaccinating correctly and still have a problem, you should discuss this with your vet. It is usually possible to investigate such problems, sometimes in conjunction with the drug company that produces the vaccine, which can be helpful in producing a plan for control.
Should I take any special hygiene precautions?
Build up of infection can occur in the household, especially where cats are kept in an area that cannot be adequately disinfected. Feline herpesvirus is a relatively fragile virus and does not remain infectious for very long in the environment (about 48 hours) but FCV can remain infectious for up to 10 days in good conditions. Use of a suitable disinfectant is essential, as is sensible stock management.
Should I change my management procedures?
One of the factors involved in flu is keeping a lot of cats together. The more cats you have, the more likely one will be a carrier and will infect the others. Therefore, it is usually best to try to keep cats in smaller groups. This is usually only possible where cats have separate accommodation in outdoor pens or an indoor cattery. Isolation of two or three cats in back bedrooms or other areas of the house is frequently not successful, as isolation is hard to maintain. Strict hygiene is important to prevent cross infection from other groups.
Management of an outbreak will usually involve isolation, treatment, vaccination and a period of testing, during which no kittens should be bred, in an attempt to control the disease. It may be necessary to consider neutering and rehoming. Individual catteries vary so much it is essential to consult your vet to produce management procedures that you can work with. In some cases this is not possible, and a certain level of disease has to be expected.
This information sheet is produced by International Cat Care
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