Cat flu is the general name given to any feline respiratory disease that is contagious by nature. Cats that have not been vaccinated, older cats and kittens are at a higher risk of developing cat flu.
While there are numerous organisms that can cause cat flu, a huge majority of reported cases seem to be due to the feline herpes virus or feline calicivirus. Diagnosis of cat flu is usually presumptive and based on empirical observation of symptoms like sneezing, coughing, ocular and nasal discharge, fever and history of recent exposure. Severity of symptoms also indicates the virus that has most likely caused the infection. The herpes virus tends to produce more severe symptoms than the calicivirus. Laboratory diagnosis is usually complicated and typically does not give definite results, especially in mixed infections. Moreover, the calicivirus normally does not leave traces and may not be seen in cultures of nasal or oropharyngeal swabs.
Treatment of cat flu is usually symptomatic and the virus must run its course. In any case, there is no treatment that you can give to kill a virus. There are, however, instances where cat flu is caused by B. bronchiseptica, C. felis or mycoplasma. These organisms can also cause pneumonia and urinary tract infections. If laboratory tests are done and the culprit bacterium is identified, antibiotic treatment is necessary and possible.
Preventive care usually reduces the risk of feline upper respiratory infections. Provide a good quality life to your cat. Respiratory infections can be contracted when an unvaccinated cat is exposed to other infective animals in a shelter or in overcrowded places. Poor ventilation, high humidity and dusty environments also increase the risk of infection. Kittens are at a higher risk due to a weak immune system that may not have developed completely. Feed quality food to your cat to improve its immunity. If you take care of these and make sure that your cat does not share its food bowl, toys and treats with other cats, you can minimize the chances of her contacting an infection.
In an unfortunate case of infection, remember to observe the symptoms closely. Any aggravation in symptoms or change in the color of the discharge should be enough to signal that the infection is not viral and needs treatment. Another thing that should be kept in mind is that frequent infections increase the risk of secondary infections, which can spread to the lower respiratory tract and affect the lungs.