Infectious feline enteritis is an extremely serious and frequently fatal disease of cats, transmitted from an infected cat to a healthy one, especially in the first few months of life. To the cat owner the illness presents a very dramatic picture. A cat will be perfectly healthy one day and the next will be lying flat out, breathing and panting in a distressed manner and possibly crawling to a basin or sink or lying with its head over a bowl of water. The cat may cry pitifully and sit in a crouched-up position refusing all food. Sometimes, but not always, there may be vomiting of froth and mucus and the animals will resent being touched, especially around the abdomen.
Most often, the owner believes the animal has been poisoned since the symptoms appear very similar. In very severe cases the animal may die within one or two days. This illness certainly justifies the term ‘emergency’. Veterinary help should be sought immediately and measures taken to arrest the progress of the disease. It is not always possible to save the animal’s life and this is why nearly all kittens are vaccinated nowadays with the extremely effective vaccines available. This is certainly one condition where prevention is in-finitely better than cure. The best advice is for owners to take their new kittens to the local veterinary surgeon for general advice and a check up. He will probably look at the general make-up of the kitten to ensure that every-thing is normal and he may look for fleas in the coat or, if the kitten has a swollen abdomen, he may suspect worms and provide treatment accordingly. At this stage he will probably recommend vaccination against feline enteritis and advise on the date he would propose to carry this out. Two injections are normally given to ensure a strong builcl-up of antibodies against the disease. Depending upon its prevalence in your neighbourhood he may advise you to return during the cat’s life from time to time for booster injections.
If you are unfortunate enough to have a cat that is not protected and dies from the disease, it is important to remember that the virus is extremely-resistant and may live in the house for up to six months after the kitten or cat has died. For this reason, it is important to destroy all bedding by burning it and thoroughly to disinfect all areas where the cat has been during its infected state. It is wise nevertheless to delay purchasing a replacement for your cat for at least six months to ensure that the virus has been eliminated. Alternatively, you can buy an older kitten which has already been vaccinated for a sufficient time for the resistant antibodies to be formed in the bloodstream.
The second major disease of cats caused by a virus is feline influenza, commonly known as cat flu. Here again there is now an effective vaccine against the disease. This took longer to develop than the vaccine against feline enteritis because the virus of cat flu, like the virus of human flu, consists of a number of different strains. The manufacturers therefore have to ensure that their vaccine is effective against all these in order to protect cats adequately. Although feline influenza is less frequently fatal than feline enteritis, it is an unpleasant disease which often leaves its mark on the cat for life. First signs are frequent sneezing and running eyes, symptoms that are entirely similar to those seen in human flu. The cat will probably go off its food and drink more, and lie about showing little interest in the world around it. It will almost certainly have a temperature at this time and may even pant. Veterinary help should be sought immediately so that the condition can be arrested and the damaging secondary effects prevented. If left untreated, the discharge from the nose will become yellow and thick, and the nose will become encrusted around the outside; the eye discharge may also thicken up and the eyes themselves may close or the eyelids stick together with the gummy discharge.
A common after-effect of this particular symptom is that the passage-way which runs from the inside of the eye down into the nasal passages, known as the tear duct, becomes blocked. This means that the tear fluid which is formed as a natural washing mechanism to remove dust and particles from the surface of the eye and normally goes clown this tiny tube into the nose, cannot escape by this route and therefore spills over the corner or inner canthus of the eye and runs down the side of the face. Once this duct is blocked it is usually blocked for life and the spilling of tears over the face becomes a permanent problem that can often cause at least discolouration and sometimes irritation and skin problems.
Another serious complication of cat flu is pneumonia. In a severe case of flu in a cat with poor resistance, the virus gets into the chest and lungs and combines with bacteria, which may already be present in the dormant state, to cause a blow-up of serious infection in the lung tissue and the airways of the lungs, creating the classic condition of bronchial pneumonia. Veterinary treatment is vital if the cat’s life is to be saved. This will consist of antibiotics to destroy the bacteria, leaving the cat’s natural resistance to cope with the virus which does not respond to antibiotic treatment.
In both virus diseases the owner’s patient nursing is a vital ingredient in returning the cat back to normal health. There are a few general rules about this which apply to all illnesses and can make a major contribution to the success or failure of treatment. The rules also apply to animals brought home after surgery, whether minor or major. Essentially, good nursing consists of leaving the animal alone but staying close by. Put it in a warm comfortable bed where it is not disturbed by other members of the family or pets, but where it can have the reassurance of your presence. Prevent concerned children from continually talking to the cat or lifting the blanket to see how it is getting on and eliminate loud noise, either electronic or human.
Diet is an essential feature of treatment and the veterinarian’s instructions should be closely followed. This may often involve giving concentrated food such as meat essence, meat jelly or infant’s food. Force feeding is strictly to be avoided. Harm can often be done in forcing a cat to swallow food and any benefit from the small amounts of food which finally end up in the animal’s stomach is usually countered by the upset and disturbance caused to it and its natural progression to normal health. Sometimes, particularly in the case of cat flu, the animal may lose its sense of smell and therefore find food even less tempting. In these circumstances it is often recommended to offer a strong smelling food such as smoked fish, finely chopped liver or beef broth. In severe illness liquid foods only are recommended as they exert the minimum strain on the digestive system and are more rapidly digested and absorbed.
Dehydration, particularly in feline enteritis, is something to watch out for. It is essential that fluid be replaced and sometimes the veterinary surgeon maybe sufficiently concerned about this problem to decide to inject fluid under the skin to achieve rapid results. The owner’s task, however, is to offer fluid at regular intervals, spooning it into the side of the mouth with a teaspoon with a pointed bowl.
There is no doubt that certain cats can lose the will to live even when their illness is curable with good nursing and veterinary treatment. For some reason this seems to be particularly true of the Siamese or Foreign type cats. It maybe a reflection on their sensitivity and even their intelligence. They just seem to lie down and decide to die and nothins; that the veterinarian or the owner can do will persuade them otherwise. This is where sound and constructive nursing plays an essential role in the animal’s recovery. A sick animal should be talked to gently and made to return to the world about it and show an interest in it. One cat in my experience, having decided to die, was lying in a state of abject misery and dissociation when I gave it an injection of liver extract into the muscles in the hind leg. This is unfortunately quite a painful injection and my Siamese patient reacted with considerable anger, leaping from its sickbed and attacking me with teeth and claws. Despite the injuries, I was delighted as I knew the animal had shaken itself out of its death torpor and would now make a healthy recovery, which in fact it did. This story merely illustrates the importance of finding some way to reawaken the cat’s interest in life. One can even resort to subterfuges such as putting a goldfish bowl near to the cat so (hat it can sec the goldfish swimming, or even a birdcage. Despite itself, the cat will react to its natural hunting reflexes and watch the fish or bird with increasing interest and. Almost by accident, discover that it is now capable of recovering.