Understanding Feline Calcivirus

Feline calcivirus is a viral illness that causes respiratory infection. While homeowners may find their pets infected, most commonly if their cat goes outdoors and comes into contact with other cats, FCV is most common in kennels and shelters.

Symptoms of Feline Calcivirus (FCV)

In the early stages, FCV causes a runny nose, loss of appetite, fever, pink eye and inflammation of the tissue inside the mouth. As it advances, pneumonia develops causing the upper respiratory infection and some joint pain.

Most symptoms appear in the first five days. As the disease progresses, swelling of the face and jaundice often occur with the upper respiratory infection. It's important for pet owners to seek veterinary care as early as possible if the cat is to successfully beat the disease. Infected cats must remain quarantined at home. Because the virus is easily spread, most vets will have you treat your cat at home unless symptoms become severe.

The virus remains in a cat for up to two weeks. They remain a carrier for the disease for years.

How the Virus Spreads

Feline Calcivirus is spread through mucus and saliva. A cat can sneeze on his bedding or food bowl and other cats that come into contact with it become infected. This is why keeping a sick cat away from other pets is important. Spraying bedding with a solution of bleach and water will help kill the virus. Wash all dishes in hot, soapy water.

Infected mother cats easily spread the virus to their kittens. Kittens have a harder time surviving the pneumonia that sets in. Most healthy adult cats fair well against the virus.

Treatments for Feline Calcivirus

Because the illness is viral, it's impossible to treat the virus specifically. Antibiotics are given to treat any bacterial infections. Cats will be monitored for dehydration and IV fluids are given if necessary. If the inflammation of tissue in the mouth occurs, antibiotics and corticosteroids may be used to try to prevent the condition from worsening.

While the cat recovers, it's important to keep the cat in a warm, humid location away from drafts and other pets. A vaporizer will help. If the cat has runny, watery eyes, it is beneficial to use a warm washcloth to wipe the eyes clean every now and then.

Feline Calcivirus Vaccinations

There are two vaccine, injectable or intranasal, forms:

  • Inactive Virus

  • Live Virus

The live virus vaccine does cause minor respiratory infections in some cats. The injected inactive virus vaccine doesn't, but the injected form comes with a higher risk of the cat developing VAS, a malignant skin tumor that develops at the injection site.

An intranasal vaccine is sprayed into the cat's nasal passage. The intranasal vaccine boosts antibodies more quickly that the injected version. Most veterinarians prefer the intranasal vaccine for this reason, though it does make some cats sneeze excessively after receiving it.

Vaccinations seem to offer three full years of protection. At that point, boosters are required. Because the virus that causes feline calcivirus is not linked to one specific strain, there is a chance that a vaccinated cat becomes ill despite being vaccinated.