By Prof. Dr S. YATHIRAJ*, Dr T Suryanarayana and  Dr Sampath Kumar

Before knowing about the diseases in cats, let us understand that cats as pets are very different from dogs. The common belief is that cats are like small dogs, however they cannot be treated like them. Unlike dogs which live in packs, cats tend to be independent and like segregated living.

Evolution of a cat as a pet:

Most animals that have been domesticated by man are either for the purpose of being served as food or as companions for humans. Cats are associated with humans as a source of easier living and access to food which has worked to their advantage. Though the cat originated earlier than humans, their domestication took place much later after dogs, cattle, horses and pigs. Members of the cat family, such as the lion, tiger, leopard and cheetah, had evolved 8 to 10 million years ago which is much before the appearance of humans. It is believed that cats were first domesticated in Egypt during 2600 BC. Research and tracing shows that cats were domesticated in Egypt, France, England, Europe, China, India and Arabian countries and moved to different parts of the world. Cats became popular in Europe in the first century and later gained prominence in the 16th century. During these periods, there were several negative views on owning cats. Scientific discoveries in the mid-1800s renewed the positive outlook towards cats and considered cats as “a clean animal” as they preened themselves multiple times a day. Currently, cats are as popular as dogs if not more, and are increasing in many parts of the world as more and more humans have experienced that the cat is an independent, less needy and a rather self-maintained pet compared to the dog.

Description: The cat is a strict carnivore and a predator. It has a body described as “an efficient hunting machine” that surprises, captures, consumes and digests the animals on which it lives. Cats tire more rapidly than humans, but are tremendously strong in size. Cats can turn its head almost 180 degrees, and can move their forelegs without any undue strain in any direction. Its entire body can bend and arch, and the whole body is extremely flexible and agile.

The Lifestyle of a Cat:

The cat thrives on flesh and meat, and nearly 5,000 years of domestication have not transformed this strict carnivore into an omnivore. The cat though small in size, is independent, self-groomed, lives in solitude and likes to be in an isolation. Having understood the evolution and characteristics of cats, here are some of the guidelines that can be followed by cat parents during the conditions of their illness.

Cats suffer from many viral infections which are fatal and these can be prevented by regular vaccinations. The commonly encountered viral infectious diseases in cats are:

Feline Infectious Enteritis (FIE): (Also called as Feline panleukopenia, feline parvovirus or Cat Distemper.) The disease is characterised by not eating, fever, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Feline Calicivirus (FCV) and Feline Herpesvirus (FHV-1): These two viruses cause diseases known as cat “flu”. Symptoms of this disease are lack of appetite, sneezing, discharge from the nose and eyes, cough, temperature and ulcers on the cornea.  Vaccination against these two cannot guarantee protection fully, but can reduce the risk of infection. Vaccinated cats can still become carriers and can be a source of infection.

Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV): It is caused by Coronavirus, a subfamily of Retrovirus. The affected animals can show both neoplastic and non-neoplastic disorders. Most affected animals develop complications and vaccinations are generally required for young kittens in multicats’ households or those which are involved in frequent fights.

Rabies: It is caused by Rhabdovirus and this virus can infect many species including human being. It affects CNS and causes a wide range of signs like aggression, weakness, hiding, difficulty in swallowing, limb paralysis, etc.

Other viruses which cause infections in cats are: Feline immunodeficiency virus, Feline sarcoma virus and feline infectious peritonitis virus. Of late, the occurrence of Feline infectious peritonitis is increasing in India.

Since there is no specific treatment for any of these viral infections, it is better to protect the cats from these infections by way of vaccinations against the diseases which are easily available. Treatment of clinical cases involves rigorous supportive medications for many days and could end up being futile. Consult the veterinarian as early as possible when a viral infection is suspected as a delay in the initiation of treatment can lead to an increased rate of fatality.

There are currently two types of vaccines that are currently available for use in pets. Killed (or inactivated) vaccine (these type of vaccines requires an “adjuvant” which helps to stimulate a strong immune response to the killed organism) and modified live vaccines (contain antigens, i.e. attenuated and produces rapid immunity without incorporating adjuvant).

CURRENT VACCINATION RECOMMENDATIONS

The Cat Group is a collection of professional organisations dedicated to feline welfare. Members include the Feline Advisory Bureau, Blue Cross, Royal Society for the Protection of Animals, BSAVA, etc. The group endorses the routine vaccination of all cats to help reduce the prevalence of infectious diseases.

All cats should be routinely vaccinated for FIE, FCV and FHV-1, and these are classified as the core vaccines.

For other diseases, each cat should be judged on an individual basis for the need for a vaccine. For example, indoor cats living in single households not coming in contact with the outside ones may need vaccinations against FeLV, as they will not come into prolonged contact with other cats.

When vaccinations are given, the kittens should receive two vaccinations, 3–4 weeks apart, starting at 9 weeks of age. Vaccinations before 9 weeks can cause poor immune response due to the maternal antibodies which last up to 6 to 10 weeks. Adult cats should have a single booster vaccination annually after the initial vaccination course. Different brands of vaccines are available for use in India.

COMMON ENDO-PARASITIC INFESTATIONS

Endoparasites: Infections can compromise the health of individual cats and in some cases, there are also implications for human health. Clinical signs of cats affected with internal worms are: diarrhoea, vomiting, poor coat, potbellied appearance and failure to thrive when young kittens are heavily burdened with worms. Regular deworming with broad-spectrum Antihelmintics of all cats and kittens in the household is more feasible than testing individual faecal samples.

RECOMMENDED DEWORMING REGIMES

Kittens: In very young kittens, deworming has to be done at 2, 5, 8 and 12 weeks of age using Antihelmintic that is effective against nematodes.

Adult cats: Current recommendation is to deworm adult cats every 3 months, with Antihelminitics that are effective against nematodes and cestodes. Cats that have flea infestation require deworming more frequently. Further, measures must be taken to control and eradicate fleas, both on the body and around the environment.

*Former Dean and Chief Executive , Lakeside Veterinary Hospital and Research Centre and Yaku Cat Clinic, Basavanagudi, Bengaluru – 560004, Karnataka, INDIA.

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