What is Rotavirus Infection?
Rotavirus is a highly contagious virus that causes inflammation of the intestines and stomach in many animals and in humans. Although symptoms caused by the rotavirus are much rarer in cats than in many other animals, as well as human infants, infection with this virus can cause mild to severe diarrhea and vomiting, dehydration, abdominal cramps and pain, and fever in cats. Young, old, and immunocompromised cats are more likely to experience symptoms when infected by the rotavirus than healthy adult cats. If your cat is experiencing these symptoms, it is important to contact your veterinarian. Rotavirus can cause a great deal of discomfort for your cat and can even be life-threatening for vulnerable cats.
Symptoms of Rotavirus Infection in Cats
Symptoms of rotavirus in cats are similar to those that accompany many intestinal viral and bacterial infections. Depending on the health of the cat, Rotavirus has the potential to be serious, so the cat should be evaluated by a veterinarian. The symptoms that are usually present are as follows:
- Watery diarrhea
- Mucous in the feces
- Low-grade fever
- Poor appetite
- Low energy
Causes of Rotavirus Infection in Cats
The ultimate cause of intestinal viral infection is the transmission of the infecting rotavirus from one animal to another through ingestion of contaminated feces or other bodily fluids. It must be noted that cats may be asymptomatic, but still be carriers of the virus. The following conditions make viral infection more likely.
- Kittens are more susceptible than adult cats
- Immune system deficiencies
- Pre-existing health conditions, including infection by other viruses
- Unclean living conditions
- Contact with stray cats
Diagnosis of Rotavirus Infection in Cats
It is likely that your vet’s main aim in diagnosis will be to determine if your cat has a more serious virus such as the feline leukemia virus, or a parasitic worm infection such as hookworm or roundworm. In all likelihood, after listening to your report of observed symptoms and a thorough physical examination, in cases that are accompanied by only mild diarrhea and vomiting, the veterinarian will diagnose rotavirus infection by a process of elimination, determining that your cat has “a stomach bug.” It is possible, however, for a veterinarian to choose to examine a fecal sample under an electron microscope to make a definitive diagnosis.
Treatment of Rotavirus Infection in Cats
Rotavirus cannot be killed or cured. It is, however, self-limiting, meaning that it will eventually “run its course.” Consequently, any treatment addresses only the common symptoms of diarrhea and vomiting rather than being able to treat the underlying viral cause. The following treatments are often employed:
- Increased fluid intake, usually oral, but sometimes intravenously or subcutaneously
- Electrolyte replacement, usually oral but sometimes intravenously or subcutaneously
- Food may be withheld for a time to help lessen the amount of diarrhea and gastrointestinal discomfort
Recovery of Rotavirus Infection in Cats
If a cat remains hydrated or can be rehydrated, cases of rotavirus infection in an otherwise healthy cat will likely resolve itself within 48 hours. Most cases are quite mild and merely result in a couple of uncomfortable days for your cat. Recovery will likely be more difficult for kittens, elderly cats, and especially for cats that live with underlying health conditions that result in a compromised immune system. These cats will need your veterinarian’s help to recover.
A cat that is experiencing a rotavirus infection or any other health condition that causes diarrhea and vomiting must be isolated from other cats, other pets, and from small children as a precaution. The cat will need plenty of rest, fluids, and easy access to a litter box. It is important that the litter box be kept as clean as possible to help prevent the spread of the virus. An infected cat needs to have its own litter box that is not being used by any other cats.