What is Intestinal Viral Infection?
Rotavirus, the most common intestinal viral infection in cats, has the ability to spread between animals and humans. Cats that are suspected of having an intestinal viral infection should be seen by a veterinarian promptly and should be kept away from other animals, infants, young children, and people with compromised immune systems or immunodeficiency disorders. It is recommended that all cats are properly vaccinated and kept in clean environments to minimize the chance of contracting an intestinal viral infection as it is far easier to prevent a viral infection than it is to treat one.
Intestinal viral infection in cats commonly causes inflammation of the intestinal lining, stomach upset, and diarrhea. If treated promptly, most cats will fully recover from the infection. In some cases, diarrhea may be severe enough to cause life-threatening dehydration. If left untreated, certain virus strains can develop into feline infectious peritonitis, which may be fatal.
Symptoms of Intestinal Viral Infection in Cats
Intestinal viral infections are primarily characterized by the presence of mild to severe diarrhea that is often watery and may be green or otherwise discolored. Older cats that have been infected may not display any visible symptoms. In young kittens, common symptoms may include:
- Extreme weight loss
- Unwillingness to eat
- Abdominal pain
- Watering eyes
- Nasal discharge
There are several viruses that are linked intestinal infections in cats. A few of the most common are:
Causes of Intestinal Viral Infection in Cats
Intestinal viral infections are highly contagious and are usually spread through contact with infected feces or saliva. The virus may be ingested or inhaled and in rare cases transmission can occur through contact with contaminated litter boxes, food dishes, bedding, or grooming equipment. Depending on the type of virus, it may remain active on surfaces for long periods of time. Humans may spread the infection between cats by petting multiple cats without disinfecting hands in between. Cats can also spread it to one another through mutual grooming or bites that occur as the result of fighting. In some cases, the virus can spread from an infected mother to unborn kittens.
Intestinal viruses tend to spread in areas that have a high concentration of cats such as shelters, catteries, and feral colonies. The condition can occur in cats of any age, but it is more commonly found in young cats and kittens, cats with a weakened immune system, or those living in a highly stressful environment.
Diagnosis of Intestinal Viral Infection in Cats
After reviewing the cat’s medical records and discussing the onset of symptoms, the treating veterinarian will attempt to rule out other possible causes of gastrointestinal upset. These other causes may include the presence of parasites, fungal infection, toxin exposure, dietary allergies, or feline leukemia (FeLV). Standard lab tests including a complete blood count (CBC), blood profile, and electrolyte panel will be ordered to assess the cat’s overall health. Tissue biopsy and fecal examinations are likely to be ordered and the intestines will be examined. Test results will indicate whether the infection is viral or bacterial and the cat’s level of dehydration.
A physical exam will be performed, with close attention paid to the condition of the mouth and abdomen. A stethoscope will be used to listen for abnormal abdominal sounds and a visual diagnosis may be made using X-rays, ultrasound, and/or endoscopy.
Treatment of Intestinal Viral Infection in Cats
There are no antiviral medications available to treat intestinal viral infections. Symptom control is therefore the primary objective. If the cat is suffering from dehydration or electrolyte imbalance this will need to be addressed promptly. The administration of intravenous fluids may be necessary until the cat has stabilized. Diarrhea, upset stomach, and vomiting may be controlled with the use of prescription medications. The vet may recommend temporarily changing the cat’s diet to high-protein foods that are bland and easily digestible in order to calm the stomach and ease discomfort. Antibiotics are not useful in treating viral infections and are unlikely to be prescribed.
Recovery of Intestinal Viral Infection in Cats
Follow-up visits to the vet will be needed to ensure that the infection has been cured and, with proper treatment, a full recovery is expected.
Depending on the type of virus, it is possible that after recovery the cat may continue to be a carrier and will have the ability to spread the infection to other cats. Sufficient litter boxes should be provided and they should be cleaned daily and disinfected at least once a week to avoid contamination. Keeping cats separated into small groups of three to four can also help to minimize the likelihood of transmission.
When handling fecal matter, owners will need to take precautions to avoid transmission of the infection to family members. Latex gloves should be worn while cleaning up after the cat and the animal’s living area will need to be thoroughly disinfected on a regular basis.