Practical steps to reducing cat 'flu

There is no doubt that vaccination remains a vital tool in protection against cat 'flu. However, because there are limitations in what can be achieved, it is vital to consider other ways of reducing the risk of infection.

Spread of infection

Susceptible individuals become infected from direct contact with cats showing signs of disease, as well as from carrier cats showing no signs of disease. But infection can also occur from a contaminated environment, because all cat ’flu pathogens can survive for a limited time outside the body. Airborne (aerosol) infection may occur and therefore good draught-free ventilation is important to ensure that all infectious particles are swept away. However, because cats only have a small lung capacity, sneezing doesn’t seem to be a major means by which cat ‘flu is spread over longer distances.

The effect of group size and stocking density

Large groups of cats at high density provide optimum conditions for the spread of cat ‘flu infections. The social interactions within such a group may increase stress, further increasing the susceptibility of individuals and also increasing the likelihood that carrier cats may shed infection to others. Purely from a disease-control point of view, keeping cats individually is ideal, though this is not always practical or desirable in a breeding household. Failing this, cats in small groups of three or less should reduce the opportunity for infection to spread.
Practical steps to reducing cat ‘flu

Cleaning and disinfection

Because any cat can potentially be a carrier, any used accommodation should be regarded as contaminated and therefore a potential source of infection for any new cat that is introduced. Cleaning and disinfection of accommodation is therefore very important. Fortunately, both the viruses and Bordetella are susceptible to the common disinfectants recommended for cattery use. However, because bacteria and viruses may survive within organic debris such as discharges and faecal matter, disinfectants are only fully effective in a clean environment. It is therefore important that cattery accommodation is designed to be easy to clean. For example, an easily washable surface such as a perspex “sneeze-barrier” not only provides a physical barrier but is also easier to clean than wire mesh. When considering cleaning and disinfection, one should not forget that everyday objects such as toys, feeding bowls, water dishes and even carrying baskets may also carry infection. Bowls are easy to keep clean but ideally should not be used interchangeably between different cats or groups of cats. Wire and wicker baskets are often difficult to keep clean - especially if their condition is poor - so you should consider their replacement with an easily washable design.

Finally, remember that human hands, clothing and footwear may also carry infection. Hands should be washed frequently with an anti-bacterial wash, while protective clothing and overshoes may also be considered when handling different cats. Herpesvirus only survives in the environment for up to about 18 hours. Calicivirus is hardier and may survive for up to 7 days or longer in damp conditions. But because none of the agents which cause cat ‘flu survive for extended periods in the environment, time is an ally, and if you have the luxury of allowing cattery accommodation to stand empty for a period before re-using, this may be beneficial.