Cat Health: January 2010 Archives

cat-at-the-vet.jpgYes, cats can get the flu.

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In the last couple of years, a hyper-virulent virus has been hitting shelters and other high-density housing of cats [catteries, rescues, veterinary clinics, pet stores]. And while nicknamed “cat flu”, it is most commonly caused by Feline Herpes Virus-1 [also known as Feline Virus Rhinotracheitis], or Feline Calicivirus. And then, there was also the startling news recently of a documented case of the H1N1 virus in a cat.

How is cat flu spread?

Much the same way a cold is spread in humans – from cat to cat contact, and from contact with the nasal and eye discharge from an infected cat.

Most kitten vaccines for feline distemper (panleukopenia) also include rhinotracheitis and calicivirus. There is also a vaccine for virulent calicivirus, but it is unlikely to protect against different strains. Like human flu viruses, feline calicivirus often mutates, making older vaccines ineffective. Vaccination does not prevent illness, and infected cats can still shed these highly contagious viruses; but vaccines are thought to minimize symptoms and reduce viral shedding. Fully vaccinated adult cats are still susceptible; in the case of virulent systemic calicivirus, adults actually fare worse than kittens.

I_can_has_treats_please.jpgArticle by Thomas Hapka, author of Feline Aids: A Pet Owner's Guide.

Each year, thousands of cats are diagnosed with Feline AIDS, also known as the Feline Immunodeficiency Virus or FIV. This potentially life-threatening disease attacks and impairs the immune system, leaving infected animals vulnerable to a variety of infections. Even a seemingly innocent head cold can pose serious risks for these cats.

The name "Feline AIDS" inspires fear in the hearts of many pet owners. However, this disease is not the same virus that infects humans.

FIV is species specific, affecting only cats. Furthermore, it is not easily spread among the feline population. Deep, penetrating bite wounds like those exchanged by un-neutered males during fights are the most common means of transmission, and some evidence suggests that mothers can pass the disease to their unborn kittens. Infected cats can share litter pans and food dishes with their housemates without spreading the disease.

Because traditional veterinary medicine doesn't offer a "cure" for Feline AIDS, well-meaning veterinarians often recommend euthanasia as a primary course of action. Others attempt to treat infected cats with aggressive courses of prescription drugs, including steroids, interferon, AZT, and antibiotics. This approach is problematic, as each of these medications can produce substantial side effects and further suppress the immune system - the last thing an immune compromised animal can afford.

While medical treatments for Feline AIDS are somewhat limited, natural therapies offer a variety of benefits. Vitamin supplements, homeopathy and herbals, for example, can bolster an ailing cat's immune system, even during the advanced stages of the disease. Most of these products are affordable and available at any health food store.

Comprehensive dietary nutrition is also essential for cats with FIV. Keeping them healthy on a diet of commercial pet food is extremely difficult, as these foods are nutritionally inadequate and laden with harmful colorings, preservatives, and inferior meat sources.

cat_food_prey.jpgMany holistic practitioners recommend raw meat for cats with Feline AIDS. Some pet owners question the safety of a raw diet, but FIV+ cats frequently thrive on this rich, whole food nutrition. Unlike humans, animals are designed to safely digest raw foods as they would in the wild.

Although natural treatments have proven effective, anyone caring for an FIV+ cat should maintain a good relationship with a skilled medical vet. Immune compromised animals sometimes require IV's, oral cleanings, and other supportive care. Pet owners should exercise caution, however, as some common medical treatments - such as vaccinations - pose a threat to cats with FIV.

Cats receiving natural treatments often enjoy a high quality of life for many years, but there are times when euthanasia is the compassionate choice for animals in the throws of advanced Feline AIDS. The bottom line is that a diagnosis of FIV is not an automatic death sentence.

Thomas Hapka is a freelance writer and graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He learned of FIV in 1995 when his cat, Jac, was diagnosed. Since then, he has consulted with hundreds of pet owners. His clients have spanned nine countries and included two American zoos. Hapka has been featured in the magazines Australian National Cat, Cat's Life, and Animal Wellness. He is presently enrolled at the British Institute of Homeopathy USA, pursuing a degree in veterinary homeopathy.

Visit Feline Aids for more information. To schedule an interview, please call 920.285.8055 or email felineaids@yahoo.com

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