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Calicivirus in cats

Young cat sitting on an examination table being checked over by a vet.
Feline calicivirus (FCV) is a virus that is very common in the cat population. Its symptoms include nasal discharge, gingivitis and mouth ulcers.

What is the difference between FCV and FHV?

Feline calicivirus causes FCV, with the usual symptoms including:

  • Nasal discharge
  • Gingivitis
  • Mouth ulcers

It is a naked virus, which means it is relatively resistant in the external environment and is difficult to remove. After infection, it may take anywhere from a few weeks, to a few months for a cat to fully recover.

The feline herpesvirus (FHV) affects the eyes in the form of conjunctivitis and corneal ulcers, as well as causing nose discharge.

These two viruses are quite different, but sometimes get confused as they’re often involved in “feline coryza”, which is a syndrome characterised by eye infections (conjunctivitis, discharge), nasal discharge, mouth inflammation and ulcers.

Are there any side effects for a kitten suffering with FCV?

FCV can have dramatic consequences for cats, especially kittens, as it affects their ability to eat. Sense of smell is important for cats to feed because a blocked nose can mean food refusal while painful lesions in the mouth can be another reason for not eating.

How is FCV spread?

FCV is spread in the following ways:

  • Directly between cats
  • By humans stroking cats and not washing their hands

Objects that come into daily contact with an infected cat such as food bowls, cages and brushes must also be cleaned regularly to stop the infection spreading.

Can my kitten be exposed to FCV when in contact with other cats?

Your kitten could still be exposed to the virus when in contact with other cats that appear healthy.

An animal showing no signs of any illness may actually still be carrying some diseases including feline calicivirus. This healthy carrier may represent a risk for other members of the community, especially kittens.

If my kitten gets feline calicivirus will it ever recover?

Feline calicivirus exists as a wide variety of strains, meaning a cat can get infected many times throughout its life, in a similar way to humans picking up a common cold time and again.

It’s a common misconception that cats will never rid themselves of FCV once first infected. In fact, in the case of a first infection in a sensitive animal, the cat may or may not develop symptoms. After this phase, it continues to shed the virus for a few weeks to several months, but in most cases ultimately recovers. This is particularly true if the animal lives alone and is not recontaminated.

For cats living together, the problem is that the virus circulates, and cats are recontaminated constantly (either via contact with other cats or via the contaminated environment, since the virus is resistant in the external environment).

Always remember: A cat that lives alone and is infected with calicivirus should eliminate the virus totally after a period of a few weeks to a few months.

How can I prevent my kitten picking up feline calicivirus?

Ensuring your kitten is vaccinated helps prevent contagious diseases, including FCV. Some vaccinations are mandatory, while others are only recommended. The latter may vary according to the location, age, lifestyle and immune status of the kitten or cat.

The core recommended vaccinations for kittens include:

  • Feline calicivirus (FCV)
  • Feline panleukopenia virus (FPV)
  • Feline herpes virus (FHV-1)
  • Rabies virus (RV)

Vaccinations are most effective when they are given at fixed dates with booster vaccinations at specific times.

When should my kitten be vaccinated?

Initial vaccinations should begin between seven and nine weeks of age. Speak to your vet as they’ll be able to assess the cat’s risk profile and the best age to be vaccinated.

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