Everybody has heard of viral infections. But what is a virus? And why are viral infections so difficult to treat? The dictionary definition of a virus is ‘a combination of chemicals capable of multiplying rapidly inside a living cell, causing disease’.
The aim of a virus, like all other forms of life, is to reproduce as many of its type as possible. A virus enters the body of its host, penetrates certain target cells of the host, and once, inside the cell, it begins to reproduce itself. Later, thousands of new viruses are released from this cell, and these infect other target cells. Finally, virus particles leave the body of the host and enter the body of other hosts, where the whole process starts again.
In the process of entering the host cells and multiplying, viruses often cause ill health. Every different type of virus has different effects on a host, but some facts about viral infections are universally true.
The first fact is that there is an ‘incubation period’ between when an animal picks up the infection and when the first symptoms are seen. The incubation period for different viruses is known, and so it is possible to predict how rapidly a viral epidemic will affect a population. For cat flu, it’s about four or five days, so it can spread rapidly in a cat population.
The second fact is that it is very difficult to cure a viral infection. Apart from a few recently discovered exceptions, modern drugs have minimal effect on viruses. When treating animals, the aim is to give the animal supportive care to help the body’s immune system fight off the virus. In mild viral infections, the animal will recover rapidly. In serious infections, such as Feline Enteritis, the immune system of the animal may be overwhelmed by the virus, and they may even die.
The third fact is that vaccines are now available which can completely prevent some viral infections. A vaccine is a tiny dose of a harmless version of the virus. A vaccine causes no ill health, but it does provoke the body’s immune system to produce antibodies against the virus, fighting off an otherwise dangerous viral infection.
Common Viral Diseases
There are several viral diseases commonly seen in cats. Feline Enteritis, Cat Flu, and Feline Leukaemia can all be prevented by vaccination. This needs to be given to kittens, and regular booster vaccinations need to be given to adult animals to maintain immunity.
Another viral infection, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, which causes Cat AIDS, is also common in multi-cat households, and unfortunately, there is no vaccine available at the moment.
If you like cats, there is something cosy and welcoming about a multi-cat household. But don’t forget to keep their anti-virus vaccinations up-to-date!
- Viral infections are common in unvaccinated cats.
- Multiple cat households are particularly vulnerable.
- Speak to your vet about a comprehensive vaccine programme for your pet cats.