Q: Our 2-year-old cat has both FIV and feline leukemia. We take her to the vet every 4 weeks for injections for gingivitis. We know are wrecking her body with these injections, but she is a happy cat, very loving and close with us. She sneezes and has acute snuffles where she blows out a lot of mucus, which is frightening at times. We know she will not live a long life but we do what we can for her and we love her a lot.
The vet gives her the same cortisone injection and another injection each month, sometimes an additional dose in the middle of the month when her gums are inflamed. I see from previous articles you’ve written that monthly steroid injections may be a bit serious and we are trying not to take her to the vet as we think this is really destroying her and it is expensive for us. We worry that she does not eat when her mouth is inflamed.
Can an herbal medicine help her with the respiratory problem? We have given her Stormogyl and Synolux but her immune system is clearly breaking down now. We try Duralactim to build her immunity but to no avail. We do have another cat older and very healthy. Any advice you could give, from a distance, would be much appreciated
A: I’m sorry to hear about your cat. Each of those viruses, FIV and feline leukemia, is bad news; having both together is truly terrible. Her prognosis, unfortunately, is very guarded. I’m happy to hear that you’re taking such good care of her.
Cats with FeLV and/or FIV are at increased risk of developing lymphoplasmacytic gingivitis, an inflammatory condition of the mouth that is painful and may make eating difficult. I suspect that this is the condition from which your cat currently suffers. In some cats, the condition can be managed with antibiotics and steroids. In many cases, when medication fails to control the condition, extraction of most of the teeth often resolves the problem.
As you noted, repeated injections of steroids are not good for a cat’s body. They increase the risk of developing diabetes, as well as another condition called Cushing’s disease. Steroids also suppress the immune system, making the cat more susceptible to infections. Because the FeLV virus and the FIV virus are both already immunosuppressive, giving additional immunosuppressive drugs to your cat is really playing with fire. Unfortunately, if antibiotics and other symptomatic drugs don’t seem to help, steroids may be the only effective option you have.
Rather than have your cat receive injections every month, a better approach would be to give your cat an oral steroid, such as prednisolone. Typically, this steroid is given in higher doses to get symptoms under control, and then the dose is tapered down to the lowest dose that still controls the clinical signs, which often turns out to be a tablet every other day. Because your cat’s mouth is sore, giving pills might be difficult. If your cat resists, your vet can have the medication prepared as a liquid, which might be easier to administer than a pill.
The sneezing and snuffling is probably due to chronic sinusitis, which I suspect is related to being immune-suppressed by the viruses. Again, antibiotics often help with flare-ups, but sometimes steroids are needed to keep the inflammation down.
I am unfamiliar with the supplements you mention in your letter, so I cannot comment on them. I have yet to find any herbal supplement or vitamin that has made any difference in cats with FeLV or FIV, although the amino acid lysine has been shown to be beneficial in cases of upper respiratory disease caused by the feline herpes virus. This virus may contribute to your cat’s upper respiratory symptoms. Lysine will either help or have no effect. It is not harmful, so you might as well give it a try. Your vet probably has several formulations of this supplement for you to try.