What is Poxvirus Infection?
Poxvirus is a zoonotic condition, meaning it can be transferred between species, including cats, dogs, and humans. It is extremely important to get veterinary help as soon as possible for this zoonotic illness, especially if you have other pets in the home. If you are concerned that you or your family members may have been infected, seek medical care immediately.
Poxvirus is a virus in the Orthopoxvirus genus, which also includes cowpox, a similar condition that can affect cats. Poxvirus in cats typically manifests with skin lesions on various parts of the body, and may progress to systemic symptoms, particularly if secondary infection develops in the skin lesions. This virus can infect any cat, no matter its breed or age, including both domestic and exotic cats. So far, this illness is limited to Europe and Asia. If you live in an area where the poxvirus is prevalent, be careful to watch for signs of infection in your cat, and to comply with requirements for transporting them to other countries when relevant. Purchasing, adopting, and moving pets internationally often requires having them tested for illness and disease.
Symptoms of Poxvirus Infection in Cats
Some cats will show immediate signs of infection, thought this isn't always the case. Symptoms can take one to three weeks to begin to show. Skin lesions are the most common symptom of poxvirus infection. These lesions appear crusty and circular and can be found on the following areas:
- Front legs
Other symptoms that may appear include:
- Anorexia (lack of appetite)
- Conjunctivitis (eye inflammation)
Feline cowpox is a similar virus that is transmitted the same way as poxvirus. It can infect many animals, not just cats. Its name may suggest it is most common in cattle, but it is actually rare with bovine species.
If your cat has contracted feline cowpox, which is also found in Europe, its symptoms may include:
- Skin ulceration
- Breathing issues
- Nasal discharge
- High body temperature
- Lack of appetite
Causes of Poxvirus Infection in Cats
Rodents are the carriers of poxvirus, and can transmit the disease to cats through bites. Cats that live outside and hunt rodents are at risk of receiving a bite and contracting the virus. If skin lesions develop, they typically appear in the area of the bite.
Diagnosis of Poxvirus Infection in Cats
A veterinary assessment typically includes a full physical exam and a discussion of the cat’s health history. Your veterinarian may ask questions about the cat’s exposure to other animals and possible contact with rodents. It is also common for standard blood tests to be conducted to identify or rule out systemic conditions that could be causing your cat’s symptoms.
When lesions or sores are present, as is common with poxvirus, samples of the tissue or scabs are typically examined with electron microscopy to determine if the poxvirus is present. A skin biopsy may also be done, as well as cultures and other lab tests to rule out or identify fungal or bacterial infections.
Treatment of Poxvirus Infection in Cats
There is no known direct treatment for poxvirus in cats. The symptoms may be treated with fluid therapy, and antibiotics may be prescribed to help keep the cat from developing a secondary infection. Your cat may also be sent home with Elizabethan collar which will help prevent the cat from licking or scratching its wounds while they heal.
Recovery of Poxvirus Infection in Cats
Although there is no direct treatment for this virus, most cats infected with it will recover on their own in one to two months. Ongoing veterinary care may be needed to avoid a secondary infection, which could make the illness worse and lengthen recovery time.
Continue monitoring your cat while they are taking antibiotics to watch for any additional symptoms, and take steps to prevent the spread of the virus in your home. Cats are likely to survive an infection of poxvirus, particularly if secondary infection is prevented.