Cat Owners Warned About Emerging Feline Disease

Virulent systemic feline calicivirus is a highly contagious and potentially fatal mutation of traditional feline calicivirus.

A longtime cat owner, Jeanne Prins took precautions to keep her cats safe from infectious diseases. She kept her pets up-to-date on their vaccinations, made sure they stayed strictly indoors, and limited their contact with other pets. Still, virulent systemic feline calicivirus (VS-FCV) took the lives of three of her pets—and Prins thinks she introduced the disease into her own home.

Traditional feline calicivirus is a common feline disease with symptoms similar to that of a cold. Cats with the new mutated form of the disease—VS-FCV—show similar symptoms, but this new strain is highly contagious and can be fatal.

“Cats affected by this disease can die, and those that do not die may take several weeks to return to normal,” said Gary D. Norsworthy, DVM, owner of Alamo Feline Health Center in San Antonio, Texas.

Signs of VS-FCV include high fever, swelling of the limbs and face, sores and hair loss, discharge from the nose and eyes, anorexia and depression. The disease is passed from cat to cat through hair, dander, saliva, blood, feces, urine, and nose and eye secretions. It also passes easily via objects, Norsworthy said. “A person could touch an infected cat and then touch a doorknob,” he explained. “The next person who touches the doorknob can pass the disease on to a different cat.”

Prins believes she brought the disease home. “One of the scariest things about this disease is how rapidly and easily it can spread,” she said. “Unfortunately, I probably brought this disease home to my cats by simply shaking the wrong hand somewhere.”

Cat owners can help protect their pets against VS-FCV by limiting their contact with other animals and keeping their cats strictly indoors. A new vaccine called CaliciVax by Fort Dodge Animal Health now protects against VS-FCV as well as traditional calicivirus.

“During the next year, all the cats I immunize will be vaccinated to help protect them against this devastating disease,” said Norsworthy.

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