Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)

Disease overview

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is a virus which can cause a serious and potentially fatal disease by depressing the immune system of an infected cat.  Australia has one of the highest rates of FIV infection in the world, with a recent study showing that 15% of cats with outdoor access (more than one in seven) tested positive for FIV.

Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)

How is it transmitted?

The virus is present in the saliva of infected cats and the most common way for a cat to be infected is by being bitten during a cat fight – cats like to have their own territory and it is common for them to squabble over boundaries. Although uncommon, it is also possible for an infected female cat to pass on the infection to her kittens during pregnancy.

How is it diagnosed?

  • Diagnosis is by blood testing
  • It can take up to 3 months after infection to be able to detect FIV infection on blood tests.

Clinical signs

  • Shortly after infection an infected cat may show signs such as a fever, lethargy and swollen lymph nodes
  • As the disease progresses, signs which may develop include chronic gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), secondary infections of the skin, gut or respiratory tract (with bacteria, other viruses or parasites), and weight loss
  • In some cats infected with FIV, the immune system becomes too weak to fight off other infections and disease, resulting in death.
  • FIV has also been shown to increase the risk of lymphoma, a type of cancer.

Risk factors

  • Cats with outdoor access
  • Cats which haven’t been desexed as they are more prone to fighting
  • Cats living with infected cats
  • Stray or feral cats in the area.

Treatment 

  • Treatment involves management of any secondary diseases which develop
  • There is no cure for feline immunodeficiency virus.

Prevention

  • FIV can be prevented by stopping cats coming into contact with FIV positive cats i.e. by keeping them exclusively indoors
  • For cats with any outdoor access, or those living with an FIV infected cat, an FIV vaccine is available.

Sources

Westman et al (2016). Seroprevalence of feline immunodeficiency virus and feline leukaemia virus in Australia: risk factors for infection and geographical influences (2011–2013). Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery.

Feline chronic kidney disease

Disease overview

Kidney disease is the inability of the kidneys to remove waste products from the blood. Chronic kidney disease refers to a progressive loss of kidney function over time. The kidneys can be damaged by a variety of causes leading to irreversible destruction of the nephrons (functional filtration units). When the kidneys are unable to filter the blood or concentrate the urine effectively the signs of kidney disease occur.

Feline Chronic Kidney Disease

Possible causes

  • Destruction of the nephrons (filtration units) due to:
  • Normal wear and tear
  • Infections
  • Toxins
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Certain drugs.

How is it diagnosed?

  • Clinical signs noticed by pet owner
  • Veterinary physical examination (e.g. palpating the kidneys)
  • Blood tests, urinalysis
  • X-rays, ultrasound.

Clinical signs

  • Cats do not show signs until at least two thirds of the kidney function is lost
  • Increased thirst and urination is one of the first signs
  • Reduced appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Poor coat appearance
  • Urinating outside the litter tray
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Ulcers on gums and tongue.

Risk factors

  • Mature, senior or geriatric cats over the age of 7
  • Senior and geriatric cats
  • Underlying disease (e.g. hypertension, hyperthyroidism)
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Infections
  • Poor nutrition.

Treatment options include

  • Fluid therapy to correct dehydration
  • Dietary modification
  • Medication
  • Treatment of any underlying disease (e.g. hyperthyroidism).

Prevention

  • Catching the disease early improves the prognosis
  • Regular veterinary check-ups to uncover diseases that can cause kidney disease
  • Preventing infections (e.g. dental disease)
  • Blocking access to toxins and poisons
  • Feeding a balanced, healthy diet.

Feline acute kidney disease

Disease overview

Kidney disease is the inability of the kidneys to remove waste products from the blood. When the kidneys are damaged in a short period of time, it is referred to as acute kidney disease. Acute kidney disease may be treatable if the cause is diagnosed very early and treated immediately. If the damage is permanent, it causes chronic kidney disease.

Feline Acute Kidney Disease

Possible causes include:

  • Poisoning from ingestion of antifreeze, pesticides, cleaning fluids, Easter lilies and some human medications
  • Blockage in the lower urinary tract associated with feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD)
  • Blockage caused by a congenital (present from birth) bladder defect
  • Trauma to the abdomen
  • Shock due to sudden blood loss or rapid dehydration
  • Blood clot blocking the renal arteries
  • Heart failure when associated with low blood pressure.

How is it diagnosed?

  • Clinical signs noticed by pet owner
  • Veterinary physical examination
  • Blood tests, urinalysis
  • X-rays, ultrasound
  • Kidney biopsy.

Clinical signs

  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Acute onset of diarrhoea
  • Dehydration and decreased urine output
  • Abdominal pain on palpation
  • Oral ulceration from ingesting poisons or antifreeze
  • Signs of a blow to the abdomen.

Risk factors

  • Trauma
  • Toxic poisoning
  • Undiagnosed infections or blockages
  • Severe hypertension (high blood pressure).

Treatment 

  • Acute kidney failure is treatable if caught in time, but requires emergency care, which may include fluid therapy, surgery, medications to correct electrolyte imbalances and intensive care.

Prevention

  • Catching the disease early improves the prognosis
  • Keep cats indoors to avoid trauma outdoors
  • Block access to toxins and poisons.

Feline leukaemia virus (FELV)

Disease overview

Feline leukaemia virus (FeLV) is an important viral infection of cats which causes a wide variety of secondary problems including immunosuppression, anaemia, and cancer. Most persistently infected cats will die as a result of their infection. The virus is mostly spread through social contact e.g. mutual grooming, sharing of food bowls, litter trays. The virus can also be transmitted through fighting.

Feline leukaemia virus (FeLV)

How is it diagnosed?

  • Diagnosis is confirmed by a blood test for feline leukaemia virus.

Clinical signs

  • The clinical signs associated with progressive feline leukaemia virus infections are variable and are related to the type of secondary problem which the cat develops e.g. immunosuppression, anaemia, and cancers such as leukaemia
  • Signs may include weight loss, poor coat condition, decreased appetite, lethargy, pale gums, persistent diarrhoea, fever.

Risk factors

  • Younger cats are at higher risk although cats of all ages can be infected
  • Cats with outdoor access
  • Cats in multi-cat households living with infected cats or cats of unknown feline leukaemia virus status.

Treatment

  • Treatment involves management of any secondary diseases which develop e.g. anaemia, secondary bacterial or viral infections, cancer
  • There is no cure for feline leukaemia virus.

Prevention

  • Vaccination is very effective at preventing disease caused by feline leukaemia virus.
  • Keeping cats strictly indoors can reduce the risk of infection
  • Testing all new kittens or adult cats for feline leukaemia virus before bringing them into the household.

Feline allergic dermatitis

Disease overview

An allergy occurs when the immune system reacts or over reacts to substances that are usually harmless. Allergic dermatitis involves allergies which result in skin problems and can be caused by many different allergens including environmental substances, food ingredients and parasites e.g. fleas. It can sometimes be very difficult to confirm the exact cause of the allergy.

Feline Allergic Dermatitis

Possible causes include:

  • Fleas – cats can become allergic to flea saliva from flea bites
  • Food ingredients
  • Environmental allergens that the cat breathes in or absorbs through the skin, such as dust mites, pollen or moulds.

How is it diagnosed?

  • Confirmation of the exact cause may not always be possible and other potential causes need to be ruled out
  • Your vet will examine any skin lesions to assess for any secondary problems or potential causes e.g. bacterial infections or parasites.
  • Samples may be taken from the skin/hair for microscopic examination to look for evidence of infection (e.g. bacterial, fungal) or parasites
  • An elimination diet may be recommended by your vet if a food allergy is suspected
  • Intradermal skin testing may be used where allergens are injected into the skin to assess for a hypersensitivity reaction.

Clinical signs may include

  • Itchiness (pruritus) leading to scratching and/or over grooming
  • Inflamed, irritated areas of skin
  • Scabs or crusts on the surface of the skin
  • Thickened areas of skin with pigment changes
  • Thinning hair or hair loss
  • Inflammation or infection of the ears.

Risk factors

  • There may be a genetic susceptibility to certain allergens in some cats
  • Cats not on regular (year round) and effective flea control are at risk of flea allergies.

Treatment options

  • Treatment will be dependent on your vet’s assessment of the skin lesions and likely causes
  • Eradicating fleas on the cat and in the home is very important as flea allergies are common
  • Feeding an elimination diet may be recommended if a food allergy is suspected
  • Medications to treat fungal and/or bacterial infections may be required
  • Medications to reduce itchiness and scratching may be required.

Prevention

  • Prevention may not be possible as not all allergens can be avoided
  • Optimal flea control is very important as fleas may be the cause of the allergy or make other skin problems worse
  • Reducing levels of dust mites and moulds in the home if environmental allergens are suspected
  • If a food allergy is confirmed then feeding a diet without the food ingredient should prevent the signs (with veterinary advice).

Feline diabetes mellitus

Disease overview

Diabetes mellitus is a complex but common disease in cats in which the cat either doesn’t produce or doesn’t properly use insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced in the cat’s pancreas and is responsible for regulating the flow of sugar from the bloodstream into the cells of the body for energy. When insufficient insulin is produced, the cat starts breaking down tissue such as fat to use as an alternative energy source.

Feline Diabetes Mellitus

Possible causes

  • Obesity
  • High levels of sugar in the bloodstream
  • Chronic pancreatitis or other hormonal diseases
  • Drugs such as corticosteroids
  • Exact cause is usually unknown.

How is it diagnosed?

  • Diagnosis is based on a combination of clinical signs, physical examination, urinalysis and blood tests
  • Persistent and abnormally high levels of sugar in the blood and urine or high levels of fructosamine in the blood
  • Tests may need to be repeated over a few days to confirm diagnosis
  • May need additional laboratory tests to check for other diseases.

Clinical signs

  • Increase in urination
  • Compensatory increase in thirst
  • Weight loss
  • Increased appetite
  • Weakness and unsteadiness
  • Poor coat
  • Lethargy
  • Urinary tract infections.

Risk factors

  • Obesity
  • More common in male cats
  • Older age
  • History of chronic pancreatitis or other hormonal diseases
  • History of certain drugs
  • Genetic susceptibility in Burmese breed.

Treatment 

  • Most diabetic cats will need injectable insulin to control blood sugar levels
  • Regular monitoring of glucose levels by a veterinarian to determine insulin dosage during initial stages
  • Diet with moderate to high levels of fibre, high protein and reduced carbohydrates
  • Gradually reducing weight in obese cats
  • Low-stress environment
  • No cure but can be controlled with insulin, exercise and proper nutrition.

Prevention

  • Maintain cat’s healthy weight
  • If your cat is obese, implement a weight loss program
  • Consistently feed your cat a healthy, balanced diet
  • Encourage exercise – even an indoor cat can be active.

Feline upper respiratory tract infections

Disease overview

Viral or bacterial infections of the upper respiratory tract are common in cats. There are several viruses and bacteria which can cause disease of the upper respiratory tract. Vaccines are available for some but not all of them. Transmission is usually by direct or close contact between cats e.g. in sneezed droplets. Therefore cats in crowded environments are at higher risk e.g. boarding facilities and animal shelters.

Feline upper respiratory tract infections

Possible causes include:

Viruses:

  • Feline calicivirus
  • Feline herpesvirus

Bacteria:

  • Chlamydia felis – a common cause of conjunctivitis, especially in young cats
  • Others: Bordetella bronchiseptica, Mycoplasma.

Diagnosis

  • There may be a history of a possible recent exposure to respiratory diseases e.g. a visit to a boarding facility
  • Veterinary physical examination
  • Swabs may be taken from the eyes, nose or throat for testing to identify viruses and bacteria which may be causing the signs.

Clinical signs

  • Sneezing
  • Nasal congestion
  • Discharge from the nose
  • Coughing
  • Ulceration of the lips or the inside of the mouth
  • Redness, swelling, squinting of the eyes
  • Discharge from the eyes
  • Fever
  • Reduced appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Laboured or rapid breathing may indicate pneumonia which is an uncommon but serious potential complication
  • Cats infected with feline herpesvirus become life-long carriers of the virus, and after the initial signs resolve, some will suffer from recurrent problems throughout their lives.

Risk factors

  • Unvaccinated kittens and cats are at an increased risk
  • Cats with suppressed immune systems e.g. feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) infection
  • Cats in boarding facilities, shelters or visiting cat shows
  • Multi-cat households
  • Stress
  • Poor overall health.

Treatment

  • Antibiotics may be given to cats with viral infections to treat secondary bacterial infections
  • Topical eye ointments may be used if the eyes are affected
  • Chlamydia felis infections require long courses of oral antibiotics and all in-contact cats should also be treated
  • In severe cases hospitalisation may be required
  • Highly palatable food to improve appetite
  • Antiviral medications may help with the signs of feline herpesvirus infection.

Prevention

  • Vaccines are available for feline calicivirus, feline herpesvirus and Chlamydia felis
  • Vaccination cannot prevent infection but it can markedly reduce the severity of the signs
  • Vaccination against feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus is recommended for all cats, regardless of lifestyle
  • Isolate infected cats from other cats in the household
  • Wash hands to avoid passing infections to an uninfected cat
  • Minimise stress
  • Avoid taking the cat to overcrowded environments.

Feline ringworm

Disease overview

Ringworm isn’t caused by a worm as its name suggests, but is a highly contagious fungus, also known as dermatophytosis, that infects the skin, hair and nails of cats. It can spread to other pets and is zoonotic, which means it can spread to humans, too.

Feline Ringworm

Possible causes

  • The Microsporum canis organism is responsible for most infections in cats, dogs and humans
  • Direct contact with a ringworm-infected pet or human
  • Indirect contact with skin cells or hair of infected pets or humans (e.g. via a brush, or a surface the skin has rubbed on)
  • May occur after flea infestation through bites on the skin
  • Ringworm fungus spores are hardy and can remain infectious in the environment for up to two years.

How is it diagnosed?

  • Patchy, circular areas of hair loss with central red rings
  • Rarely noticed in pets just by looking at the skin
  • More visible on human skin
  • Some types of ringworm fluoresce under ultraviolet light
  • Microscopic examination of affected hairs
  • Culture of the fungus from hair and skin scrapings
  • Important to distinguish from allergic skin diseases.

Clinical signs

The condition does not usually cause itchiness. Signs are variable and can include:

  • Hair loss on skin of the head, ears or legs
  • Claws that are rough, pitted and develop a scaly base.

Pet owners may not be aware of infection of pets for many months. Sometimes it is first diagnosed due to spread of infection to in-contact humans.

Risk factors

  • Kittens less than 1 year old
  • Longhaired cats
  • Cats who are immunosuppressed
  • Rapid spread in shelters or other crowded environments
  • Warm, humid conditions.

Treatment

All in-contact animals must be treated to prevent re-infection

  • Oral, antifungal drugs
  • Medicated shampoos or creams
  • Re-treat over several months
  • Skin cultures rechecked periodically by veterinarian
  • Decontaminate all bedding, baskets, collars, toys, food and water bowls, and grooming tools by washing with disinfectant prescribed by veterinarian
  • Discard items that are impossible to disinfect, such as carpeted cat poles/posts
  • Vacuum floors and carpet to rid house of infected hairs and skin cells
  • Wash hands after bathing or touching an infected pet.

Prevention

  • Routine veterinarian checks for recurrence on pets
  • Check any new cat or dog before bringing them into household.

Feline panleukopenia virus (Feline infectious enteritis)

Disease overview

Feline panleukopenia virus (also known as feline parvovirus or feline infectious enteritis) can cause a severe and often fatal disease in cats. It is thankfully now rare in Australia but cases are still occasionally seen and all cats should be vaccinated against it.

Feline panleukopenia virus (Feline infectious enteritis)

How is it diagnosed?

  • Typical clinical signs
  • Veterinary physical examination
  • Decreased white blood cell count on blood tests (not all cases)
  • Diagnosis is confirmed by faecal tests which can detect the virus.

Clinical signs

Kittens are more susceptible to severe disease but it can be potentially fatal in cats of all ages. Signs may include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea, possibly containing blood
  • Dehydration
  • Abdominal pain
  • Sudden death, especially in young kittens
  • If pregnant queens are infected, the virus can spread to the unborn kittens where it can damage the developing brain and result in permanent problems with coordination and balance.

Risk factors

  • Unvaccinated kittens/cats, especially those entering shelters and pounds
  • Kittens are most susceptible to severe clinical signs and death.

Treatment

  • Hospitalisation for supportive care, including fluid therapy and antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections
  • Some cats will die despite intensive treatment.

Prevention

  • Vaccination against this virus is highly effective and is recommended for all cats, regardless of lifestyle.

Feline lower urinary tract disease

Disease overview

Feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) is a term used to describe conditions which affect the bladder and/or urethra (the tube between the bladder and the outside of the body). It has several potential causes and results in issues such as bloody urine, frequent urination, inappropriate urination or even urethral obstruction, which is potentially fatal without emergency treatment.

Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease

Underlying causes include:

  • Bacterial infections – uncommon in cats compared to dogs
  • Urolithiasis (Urinary Stones): urinary stones are rock-hard collections of minerals called “uroliths” that form in the urinary tract of cats. The two most common types are struvite uroliths and calcium oxalate uroliths.
  • Idiopathic cystitis – inflammation of the bladder without a known cause. This is a diagnosis of exclusion, when all other causes have been ruled out.

Diagnosis

  • History from the cat owner and physical examination by the vet
  • Urinalysis – examination of the urine including microscopic examination and tests to rule out bacterial infection
  • Imaging of the bladder and urethra with x-rays and/or ultrasound
  • Blood tests to assess for other issues e.g. kidney disease.

Clinical signs

  • Straining to urinate
  • Increased frequency of urination
  • Blood in the urine
  • Vocalising while urinating
  • Excessive licking of the genital area
  • Urinating outside the litter tray.

Risk factors

  • Neutered cats
  • Obese cats
  • Cats which eat a dry only diet
  • Stress.

Treatment

  • Antibiotics if a bacterial infection is confirmed or suspected
  • Medications or pheromone therapy to reduce stress
  • Urolithiasis: surgery may be required to remove bladder stones. Prescription diets are available to reduce the likelihood or recurrence or can be used to dissolve some but not all types of stones
  • Urethral obstruction:  a life-threatening condition that occurs when the cat’s urethra becomes blocked meaning that the bladder cannot empty. Immediate treatment is essential to relieve the obstruction and prevent kidney failure. This usually involves urinary catheterisation under general anaesthetic to relieve the obstruction and some cats will need to be hospitalised for a period of time for monitoring.

Prevention

  • Reducing stress may reduce the risk
  • Feeding moist rather than dry foods may reduce the risk of recurrence
  • Provide a constant source of clean, fresh water
  • Prescription urinary diets may prevent the recurrence of urinary stones.

Feline hyperthyroidism

Disease overview

Feline hyperthyroidism is caused by excessive concentrations of the thyroid hormone and is the most common endocrine (hormonal) disorder in cats. Thyroid hormone regulates many metabolic processes such as growth, development and energy.

Feline Hyperthyroidism

Possible causes

  • Overproduction by the thyroid gland
  • Result of a benign tumour involving one or both thyroid lobes
  • Result of malignant tumours, but rare in cats.

How is it diagnosed?

  • Clinical signs noticed by pet owner
  • Veterinary physical examination, including palpating neck for enlarged thyroid
  • Thyroid hormone level blood tests
  • Urinalysis
  • Specialist imaging
  • Concurrent diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, cancer, kidney failure and bowel diseases can make diagnosis difficult.

Clinical signs

  • Goitre (enlarged thyroid gland) in many cats
  • Weight loss despite increased appetite
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Behavioural changes such as increased activity or restlessness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Poor coat
  • Intermittent vomiting and diarrhoea.

Risk factors

  • Older cats (rarely affects cats less than 7 years old)
  • Concurrent diagnosis of hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Any breed, male or female.

Treatment 

Four options:

  1. Medical management (anti-thyroid drugs): requires lifelong medication, usually with tablets
  2. Surgery: can produce a permanent cure, but anaesthetic and surgery risks may be higher than normal unless the disease is initially controlled with medication.
  3. Radioactive iodine therapy: often curative. Requires an injection of I-131 at a specialist hospital and a hospitalisation of 3 to 7 days.
  4. Iodine restricted diets: shown to effectively lower thyroid levels. May be a problem in multi-cat households as the affected cat cannot eat any other food and healthy cats should not eat the iodine-restricted diet. These diets should be used under the direction of a veterinarian.

Prevention

No known methods to prevent the condition.

Feline dental disease

Disease overview

Feline dental disease is one of the most common medical conditions seen by veterinarians. Regular health checks are important to detect signs of dental disease early.

Feline Dental Disease

Possible causes

  • Plaque and tartar accumulation on teeth
  • Gingivitis – inflammation of the gums
  • Periodontal disease – an advanced gum disease which can result in tooth loss
  • Malocclusion (abnormal bite)
  • Tooth resorption – this is a condition which results in the loss of tooth structure, starting with the outer enamel surface, usually at or below the gum line. It is a common and often painful condition.

How is it diagnosed?

  • Signs may be noticed by the pet owner e.g. difficulty chewing/eating, bad breath and weight loss
  • Veterinary physical examination of the mouth
  • Dental x-rays may be performed under anaesthetic to determine the extent of disease.

Clinical signs

  • Inflamed gums (gingivitis) that may bleed easily
  • Visible plaque on the teeth
  • Decreased interest in food
  • Chewing food with discomfort
  • Foul mouth odour
  • Reluctance to eat dry/hard food
  • Excessive drooling
  • Weight loss.

Risk factors

  • Mature, senior and geriatric cats, although younger cats may also develop dental disease
  • Lifelong diet of moist or soft foods
  • Genetic susceptibility to malocclusion or oral resorptive lesions in some breeds.

Treatment 

  • Dental scaling and polishing under anaesthetic is often required to remove tartar and plaque
  • Tooth extractions, if necessary
  • Antibiotics may be used if infection is present in the mouth.

Prevention

  • Regular dental check-ups by a veterinarian
  • Some cats may allow owners to brush their teeth (with specially designed soft brushes and toothpaste)
  • Your vet may recommend a prescription diet with a specially designed kibble to help reduce tartar build-up or dental treats. Look for products with VOHC approval.
  • Dental scaling and polishing early in the disease may prevent progression and severe disease.