Calicivirus in cats is a virus that is found everywhere. It can affect cats of all ages but is most prevalent in kittens. Calicivirus is only contagious to cats. Humans and dogs cannot contract the virus.
Feline Calicivirus Symptoms
Calicivirus can have many strains and varying severity of disease. Most strains cause upper respiratory signs in kittens and less often cats.
Like feline herpes virus, feline calicivirus can cause ocular and nasal discharge but it also can cause oral ulcerations. In more severe cases, it can cause a fever and lameness/limping. Calicivirus has also been shown to contribute to chronic gingivitis/stomatitis in cats but is it unclear exactly how it contributes to this multifactorial disease.
Virulent Systemic Feline Calicivirus
There is a recently emerging strain, called virulent systemic calicivirus, that causes very serious swelling of the face, ulcerative skin lesions and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and mucous membranes). This strain of calicivirus is very contagious, the risk of death is very high and it can affect both kittens and adult cats. It was first seen and most commonly occurs in shelter/rescue situations but is still a concern for companion cats.
Virulent systemic calicivirus is the most severe form of calicivirus. Cats with this form of calicivirus become extremely sick extremely quickly. The only chance for treatment and recovery is immediate intensive care to manage the severe symptoms. Sometimes even the best intensive care is not enough to save a cat from this disease. In the past few years, a dual strain calicivirus vaccine has been developed to provide broader protective antibodies and lessen the severity and duration of symptoms of both forms of calicivirus.
Calicivirus Treatment and Prevention
Calicivirus vaccination is the gold standard for preventing calicivirus. If a cat comes down with calicivirus, treatment is largely supportive care and time. The normal strains of calicivirus will generally respond to antivirals, fluids and good nutrition. There are sometimes secondary bacterial infections that may respond to antibiotics, however since calici is a virus, antibiotics are not a good primary treatment.
More severe disease that causes oral ulcerations in the mouth may require more aggressive treatment with added pain control because the ulcerations can be very painful. It may make it very difficult for a kitten to eat due to the pain and they can become very debilitated very quickly. Buprenorphine, gabapentin and other pain medications can help. Your vet can also provide certain medications that can help soothe the mouth and help heal oral ulcerations.
Even brewing green tea and letting it cool and then apply to the mouth can help soothe ulcerations. Kittens that have very severe mouth ulcers may even need to have a nasal feeding or esophageal feeding tube so they can get the nutrition they desperately need without hurting their mouths.
If you have more questions on calicivirus in cats, call a Revival Pet Care Pro at 800.786.4751.
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Written by: Amy Hanson, DVM
Amy Hanson, DVM
Dr. Amy Hanson is an associate veterinarian at the Cat Clinic of Lawrence in Lawrence, Kansas. She is a 2010 graduate of Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Her special interests include felines, acupuncture and dentistry. Her hobbies include showing cats and she is a judge for the American Cat Fanciers Association (ACFA).