Why Does My Cat Lick Me?- VyWhy
Last updated on 2021-12-24 04:14:36
Dr. Alison Gerken talks about what it means when a cat or kitten licks you and whether it’s normal behavior.
When I adopted Bambu, my adorable orange kitty with arguably the world’s poofiest tail, I was immediately taken aback by the extent of her licking. I left all of our snuggle sessions with my hands, arms, and face covered in kitty saliva.
Like many other cat parents, I set out to understand why cats lick us. Here’s some insight on cat licking—whether it means that your cat likes you or there’s an issue that you need to get checked out.
Is It Normal For Cats to Lick You?
Cats spend up to 8% of their waking time grooming (and 50% napping), so licking in general is a normal behavior for cats.1
Anyone who has been tongue-bathed by a cat will agree that a cat’s tongue is less like a soft sponge and more like a sandpaper loofah. This is because your cat’s tongue is covered in hundreds of tiny, firm, backward-facing spines called papillae. These spines help remove dirt and loose fur from your cat’s hair coat and cover the fur in saliva to keep your cat cool.2
Why Do Cats Lick You?
Scientists have not fully figured out the reason why cats lick people, but here are several possible theories.
Your cat is expressing her affection for you.
Your cat’s licking may be an affiliative behavior, which is a friendly, altruistic behavior. Mothers groom their kittens, and cats may groom one another, which is called allogrooming. This grooming strengthens their social bonds, so your cat may groom you to nurture your relationship.
Your cat is seeking attention.
Your cat may have learned very quickly that licking gets attention, as you have likely inadvertently rewarded your cat’s licking by talking to, petting, or in some way interacting with them when they lick you. Some cats even find negative attention, like being reprimanded or pushed away, to be better than no attention.
Your cat is identifying you as part of their group.
Cats communicate by marking objects and other animals with their scents, and one reason why mother cats lick their kittens may be to create a familiar group scent. Similarly, your cat may lick you as a way of identifying you.
Your cat is displaying kitten-related behavior.
Kittens knead and suckle when nursing. If your cat was weaned too early, they may have started licking you as a way to seek the comfort reminiscent of nursing. In this case, your cat may also knead and purr as they lick you.
Your cat likes your taste.
Your cat may lick your skin or hair to investigate interesting scents or odors, like an appetizing lotion, shampoo, or other topical product. Human perspiration also contains sugar and salts that cats may find appealing.
Your cat is anxious.
Licking may represent a displacement behavior, which is a behavior that a cat performs to alleviate stress. Stress more commonly leads to excessive self-grooming, but the licking may be directed toward you, too.
Determine if there are any triggers for the licking, like visitors in your home or loud noises. If your cat’s anxiety is left untreated, the licking may progress to a compulsive behavior, at which point the licking takes over your cat’s life.
Your cat has a medical issue.
Your cat may lick you and/or objects in the environment due to a medical problem. Nausea, pain, or discomfort can lead to licking. In Bambu’s case, we discovered that inflammatory bowel disease was the cause of her licking. If your cat’s licking is excessive or just started recently, take them to be evaluated by your veterinarian.
Is It Safe to Let Your Cat Lick You?
Accepting a bath from your cat is usually safe, but there are some potential risks. Cats carry bacteria in their mouths, which can lead to local or systemic infection if a cat licks an open wound. Immunocompromised people are most at risk. Acquiring a disease from your cat is very rare, but to be safe, don’t let your cat lick your face or any cuts on your skin.
Some medical ointments may also be harmful to your cat when licked. If you apply any products to your skin or hair, inform your veterinarian to determine whether the product may be potentially dangerous to your feline.
How To Stop a Cat From Licking You
Whatever the cause of your cat’s licking, you may find the licking uncomfortable or even annoying.
Never use punishment, including scolding, squirting water, shaking a jar of coins, or applying bitter-tasting spray. This may compromise your bond with your cat and may make your cat more anxious, which may exacerbate your cat’s licking.
Here are some tips to minimize the licking:
Cover your skin with long-sleeved clothing or a small towel when you interact with them, and provide a food puzzle or toy.
When your cat starts licking, get up and walk away. If your cat is licking for attention, ignoring the licking should cause the behavior to subside. Don’t ignore your cat completely, but only when they lick you. If it does not stop after a week, there is likely another motivation for the licking that needs to be addressed, and you should talk to your vet.
Try tossing a cat toy or treat away from you. When your cat follows the toy or food, then you can get up and walk away.
When your cat interacts with you without licking, reinforce the behavior by rewarding them with praise, petting, or play.
Give your cat plenty of environmental enrichment. There is never too much! Purchase a variety of toys, hide all but 5-6 toys, and rotate them every few days to create novelty. Provide vertical spaces such as cat trees and perches, along with other hiding places for your cat, and devote at least 15 minutes to interacting with your cat three times daily.
If your cat’s licking persists or is excessive, then they should be evaluated by your veterinarian to ensure there isn’t a medical or emotional disorder underlying it.
1. Eckstein RA and Hart BJ. (2000). The organization and control of grooming in cats. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 68(2):131-140.
2. Noel AC and Hu DL. (2018). Cats use hollow papillae to wick saliva into fur. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, doi:10.1073/pnas.1809544115.
Featured Image: iStock.com/sdominick
Why Cats Knead
Dexamethasone is often mixed with other drugs to treat difficult ear, eye, and skin infections in cats and dogs. Come to petMD for a complete list of …
Dexamethasone is many times more potent than other anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressing drugs including hydrocortisone and prednisone. It is often mixed with other drugs to treat difficult ear, eye, and skin infections. It reaches every system in the body and therefore is used to treat many disorders:
- Adrenal insufficiency
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Systemic Lupus
- Dermatologic diseases
- Hematologic disorders
- Neoplasia (Tumor growth)
- Nervous system disease
- Emergency shock
- General inflammation
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Nephrotic syndrome
Dexamethasone is also used in some diagnostic tests, including the Low-Dose Dexamethasone Suppression test (LDDS). This test involves an initial baseline blood sample, an injection of the Dexamethasone, and two subsequent blood draws 4 and 8 hours later. Dexamethasone will suppress the amount of cortisol in a healthy dog, and the cortisol levels will be less than the level before the injection. In a Cushing’s syndrome dog, the levels will be elevated due to an excessive amount of cortisol being produced.
How It Works
Dexamethasone is a corticosteroid known as a glucocorticoid. Corticosteroids are meant to resemble a naturally occurring hormone produced in the adrenal cortex, cortisol. Corticosteroids act on the immune system by blocking the production of substances that trigger inflammatory and immune responses.
Keep in a tightly sealed container at room temperature unless otherwise noted. Keep injection protected from light.
Give the dose as soon as possible. If it is almost time for the next dose, skip the missed dose, and continue with the regular schedule. Do not give your pet two doses at once.
Side Effects and Drug Reactions
Dexamethasone may result in these side effects:
- Change in disposition
- Increase in seizure activity
- Increased appetite
- Increase in food and water intake
- Increased urination (though less common in Dexamaethasone than in other steroids)
- Increased susceptibility for viral and bacterial infections
- Ulceration of the digestive tract
Use caution and discuss with you veterinarian before administering Dexamethasone to animals with these conditions:
- Cushing’s syndrome
- Systemic infections
- Heart problems
- Ulcers of the intestines
- Kidney disease
Dexamethasone may react with these drugs:
- Daunorubicin HCl
- Doxorubicin HCl
- Phenytoin sodium
Feline leukemia virus, known as FeLV or simply cat leukemia, is the leading cause of death in household cats. Learn about the symptoms and treatment of feline leukemia on petMD.
Feline Leukemia Virus Infection (FeLV) in Cats
Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is a disease that impairs the cat's immune system and can cause cancer. This viral infection is responsible for too many deaths in household cats, affecting all breeds. The good news is that it is completely preventable. The bad news is that most cats with FeLV live only a few years after their diagnosis.
Symptoms and Types
Cats with FeLV may not show any signs, even for years. Some of the more common symptoms of feline leukemia include:
- Progressive weight loss
- Susceptibility to infection
- Persistent diarrhea
- Infections of the external ear and skin and poor coat condition
- Fever (seen in about 50 percent of cases)
- Wobbly, uncoordinated or drunken-appearing gait or movement
- Generalized weakness
- Inflammation of the nose, the cornea, or the moist tissues of the eye
- Inflammation of the gums and/or mouth tissues (gingivitis/stomatitis)
- Lymphoma (the most common FeLV-associated cancer)
- Fibrosarcomas (cancer that develops from fibrous tissue)
Cat leukemia is usually contracted from cat-to-cat transmission (e.g., bites, close contact, grooming and sharing dishes or litter pans). It can also be transmitted to a kitten at birth or through the mother's milk. Kittens are much more susceptible to the virus, as are males and cats that have outdoor access.
If your cat is ill, your veterinarian will first rule out other infections such as bacterial, parasitic, viral or fungal. In addition, nonviral cancers need to be ruled out.
A simple blood test is available to determine whether your cat has FeLV.
Unfortunately, 85% of cats with FeLV die within three years of diagnosis.
There is no treatment or cure for feline leukemia. Treatment is directed at symptoms and often includes steroids, blood transfusion and supportive care when necessary. Some medications have shown promise in treating feline leukemia, including antivirals used in human AIDS treatment.
If your cat has no symptoms when she is diagnosed with FeLV, there is no treatment necessary apart from good at-home care.
If your cat is ill, feline leukemia makes it difficult for the cat’s body to respond to treatment. Your veterinarian will prescribe medication to treat the symptoms. Your cat may be hospitalized for severe secondary infections, low red-blood cell count, weight loss with muscle loss, or other symptoms as your veterinarian sees fit. In these cases, he will be kept under hospital care until his condition stabilizes. Emergency treatment, such as blood transfusions, is sometimes required.
Living and Management
You will need to monitor your cat for symptoms of infection and keep in touch with the veterinarian regarding follow-up treatment and testing. Treating minor signs of illness is especially important in a cat with known feline leukemia virus. Due to the virus, her body may be unable to appropriately respond to minor infections and other illnesses.
Cats with feline leukemia virus may have a normal lifespan if other illnesses can be prevented.
Keep FeLV-infected cats indoors and separated from healthy cats to prevent virus exposure and FeLV transmission. Good nutrition is important, as is controlling any secondary bacterial, viral or parasitic infections.
Keeping infected cats separated (and quarantining them) is the only way to 100 percent prevent cat leukemia in healthy cats. There is a vaccine against FeLV; however, it is important to test your cat before initial vaccination, as he may already be infected. Even if you intend for your new kitten to be strictly indoors, most veterinarians will recommend including the FeLV vaccine in his kitten booster series. Cats can escape from the house and lifestyles change. It is important for your cat’s health that he be protected, and the vaccine poses very minimal risk.
A cat with feline leukemia should be kept strictly indoors and away from uninfected cats.
The Shih Tzu is a snugly built little animal with a solid, sound structure. It stands from about 8 to 11 inches tall at the withers, and should weigh from 9 to 16 pounds. Its body …
The Shih Tzu is a snugly built little animal with a solid, sound structure. It stands from about 8 to 11 inches tall at the withers, and should weigh from 9 to 16 pounds. Its body length is slightly greater than its height, and it should be physically proportional all over, neither too short or too small, but a true miniature breed dog. In movement, it moves with effortless, smooth strides, showing good drive and reach, with the head and tail held high, giving away its ancient royal bloodlines.
Its hair is double layered, full, dense, and lush, and grows long and straight, past the feet. The Shih Tzu sheds very little, making it a good choice for people who have light allergies to fur, or for people who just prefer not to clean up a lot of hair. Regular grooming is a requirement with this breed because of this characteristic; the hair will get tangled and matted quickly as it gets longer. The ears and tail are full and long, with the tail hair fluffing it out in a feathery plume that curves over the back.
This breed is categorized as brachycephalic, meaning that the muzzle and nose of the Shih Tzu is flat, though not as flat as its cousin, the Pekingese. The eyes are round and wide, but in contrast to some other flat muzzled dogs, the eyes should not bulge or be too prominent. The Shih Tzu should have an innocent, wide-eyed, warm expression giving it an impression of friendliness and trustworthiness, rather than the more ferocious appearance of the Pekingese.
Personality and Temperament
The Shih Tzu is bred primarily as a domestic and family companion, so its personality should be guided by friendliness, buoyancy, tolerance, and trust. This breed showers affection on its family when it has been treated in kind, and is good and gentle with children. It should be noted that Shih Tzu can get skittish when they are mistreated, and a dog that is introduced to small children at an older age may not be as tolerant with high energy play as it would if it had been raised from the start with young children. Its resilience is impressive, but this trait can translate to stubbornness at times.
Still, the ever plucky and sweet Shih Tzu is not only a lively and playful companion, but a mild lapdog as well. It loves to romp and play, delighting everyone with its cheerful attitude, and at the end of the day it is happy to relax with the family, serene and at peace in its little world.
This breed needs exercise, but not much more than a daily walk around the neighborhood, or a run though the park. It can even be suitably energized with fetching games inside when the weather does not permit outdoor activities. This is a walking dog rather than a jogging dog, but owing to its size, it can also make an enjoyable biking companion, given a comfortable bike basket from which to settle in to catch the wind in its face. Because of its short muzzle, the Shih Tzu cannot tolerate high temperatures.
Another consideration regarding its nose is the tendency for water to get into the nostrils. Some owners use water bottles (the sort used for small cage animals) for their Shih Tzu to avoid this problem. This dog gets along better as an indoor dog rather than an outdoor dog. This arrangement is highly recommended, in fact. This is not only to protect your dog from temperatures, but because the hair tends to get dirty and matted as it grows.
The plush coat requires combing or brushing on alternate days, everyday if it is kept at show length. It is essential to teach puppies to accept grooming while young so that they look forward to this activity with you. Make no mistake, if you choose to grow the hair long on your Shih Tzu, you will need to commit yourself to an intense grooming schedule; the hair can get out of hand quickly. Some owners who do not plan to show their Shih Tzu, but have the breed for companionship only, will choose to keep their pet in a teddy bear cut, or an abbreviated long style that is easier to manage.
Another option is to keep the tail, ears and “beard” long, with the feet fluffy, and the rest of the hair on the body trimmed to an inch or shorter, or to keep the hair on the undercarriage long so that it blends with the legs, giving the hair the appearance of a skirt. Whatever cut is chosen, the hair around the eyes should be kept trimmed to avoid mishaps or gunk build-up, but just long enough to keep dust from blowing into the eyes.
Another reason to keep your Shih Tzu inside is that it has a tendency to bark, sometimes for long stretches of time. Even if it is kept indoors, this breed will bark frequently, at anyone, or anything, going by. It gets bored when it is alone, and this explains its behavior to some degree, but keep in mind that the Shih Tzu was bred as a palace watchdog, and it will continue to carry that instinct if it is from a pure line. This quality makes it a particularly good choice for an alarm system, but maybe not a good option for someone who lives in an apartment and is at work all day -- although there are solutions for this type of situation. When the dog is with people it can be distracted from barking as much, but this trait must be expected and appreciated, rather than taken as an annoyance that must be trained out of the Shih Tzu. Rather than punishing the barking behavior, find response words that will work quickly to quiet your dog, or distractions that can be depended on to draw its attention away from what is going on outside the window or door.
The Shih Tzu has a lifespan of 11 to 16 years. Some of the minor diseases that can affect this breed are renal dysplasia (abnormal growth of tissue), trichiasis (eyelash malformation), entropion, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), otitis externa, patellar luxation, and inguinal (groin) hernia, as well as a major concern like canine hip dysplasia (CHD). This breed is also prone to cataract and dental problems. Eye, hip, and DNA tests can be good for preventive health care, or for management of non-preventive conditions.
History and Background
The name Shih Tzu Kou, or Shih Tzu, translates to “mini lion,” the moniker given to it in deference to its lion-like appearance. The name is likely based on the word for lion, “shishi.” The lion was highly esteemed in China for its connection with Buddhism, since it had a long tradition as guardian of the temples and palaces. The lion's strength and courage was revered, and it made its way into many of Buddha's teachings. This little dog was bred to reflect that appearance of strength, regality, and beauty, and it took the position as a practical stand in for the lion, acting as companion and guardian of the palace and temple.
It is probable that this dog was actually developed in Tibet in the 1600s, where it was considered a holy animal. It is accepted as one of the oldest dog breeds on record. The modern Shih Tzu developed in China in the late 19th Century, when the Dowager Empress Cixi ruled the kingdom.
Though the Pekingese and Shih Tzu breeds have similar backgrounds, and have often been linked over the years, the two had been long distinguished in Chinese art, where the latter is shown with a pien-ji or topknot, denoted by bumps on the head. It is worth remarking that the topknot is still the style that is used for the Shih Tzu, especially in the show ring.
When the Dowager Empress Cixi ruled during the latter part of the Qing dynasty, the Shih Tzu were held in great regard, and were kept as special house pets. She personally oversaw their breeding, and the eunuchs in charge of the palace breeding took great pride in producing the most beautiful and distinct dogs, interbreeding, without the Empress' knowledge, within the groups of Pekingese and Pugs that were also a part of the palace kennel in order to achieve those ideal. Because the dogs were also regarded as protectors of the palace, the instinct for barking at strangers was undoubtedly honed during this time. In fact, the Shih Tzu is still a highly recommended watch dog because of its quick and vocal reaction to strangers. The Empress was very jealous over her dogs and was not wont to share them with foreign dignitaries or friends. Many of the Empress' dogs were lost after her death, causing a big blow to the breed. Later, Shih Tzus were displayed in China as Tibetan Poodles or Lhassa Terriers.
In 1935, the breed was shown as the Lhassa Lion Dog, and it was then that it began to gain popularity on a wider scale. In England there was confusion between the Shih Tzu and the Lhasa Apso, but in 1934, after the Apso was displayed, the two breeds were split into their own distinct classes. It was then that the smaller dogs with the shorter-noses and wider-skulls from Peking were given the Shih Tzu name. Just one Pekingese outcrossing was allowed, in 1952, but this cross was not permitted again. The standards for the purity of the bloodline have been strictly upheld since. In the 1960s, the U.S. saw immense growth in the breed’s popularity, paving the way for recognition by the American Kennel Club in 1969. It is among the most lovable of the toy breeds, and its popularity as a domestic companion and show dog continues to rise.
Featured Image: iStock.com/elenasendler
Pyrantel pamoate (also called Strongid, Nemex, and many other brand names) is most commonly used to treat hookworms and roundworms in dogs and cats. Roundworms and hookworms are typically picked up by pets when …
What Is Pyrantel Pamoate?
Pyrantel pamoate (also called Strongid, Nemex, and many other brand names) is most commonly used to treat hookworms and roundworms in dogs and cats. Roundworms and hookworms are typically picked up by pets when they ingest contaminated soil or feces or eat an infected prey animal. Puppies and kittens can also become infected with these parasites directly from their mothers. Pyrantel pamoate is not effective against tapeworms, whipworms, or many other types of intestinal parasites.
Your veterinarian may perform a fecal floatation test if they suspect that your pet has intestinal parasites or as part of a routine check-up. This test involves taking a small fecal sample from your dog or cat and putting it in a small container with a solution that will encourage parasite eggs to float. A slide is then made of the floating material and examined under a microscope to identify the type of parasite eggs that are present, which will determine which type of deworming medication is appropriate for your pet.
Pyrantel pamoate is available as a single agent or in combination with other deworming medications. Products such as Drontal contain pyrantel pamoate in conjunction with another drug, praziquantel, so that it can treat roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworms. Drontal Plus contains pyrantel pamoate and praziquantel, as well as another medication called febantel, and is effective against roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, and tapeworms.
Pyrantel Pamoate Dosage
Doses for pyrantel vary but between 2.5 mg/lb and 10 mg/lb are fairly typical. Pyrantel is usually given as a single dose that is repeated in two to three weeks to kill any parasites that have matured during that time. Sometimes puppies and kittens will be treated with pyrantel every two to three weeks between the ages of 2 weeks and 12 weeks if their risk of infection is high. Nursing female dogs may be given pyrantel approximately two to three weeks after giving birth to reduce the chances that they will pass worms on to their puppies.
Shake liquid pyrantel well before administering and follow the dosing instructions that are provided on the product label.
What to Do If You Miss a Dose
Give the dose as soon as you remember.
How Does Pyrantel Work?
Pyrantel works by paralyzing hookworms and roundworms so they can be passed out of the body in your pet’s feces and less frequently, by vomiting.
How to Store Pyrantel
Store in a tightly sealed container at room temperature.
Side Effects of Pyrantel
Pyrantel pamoate is poorly absorbed through the gastrointestinal tract and is a very safe way to treat hookworms and roundworms in dogs and cats. Pyrantel rarely results in side effects but vomiting is possible. Pyrantel is safe for use in pregnant and nursing pets.
Possible Pyrantel Drug Interactions
The standard size of the American Pit Bull Terrier varies from medium to large, with a weight range of 30–90 lbs. The Pit Bull has a stocky, muscular build and a short, smooth coat varying in color. The fluctuation in the size and color of the Pit Bull is due to the breed being a mix between different types of Bulldogs and Terriers.
The American Pit Bull Terrier has been known by many names, including the Pit Bull and the American Bull Terrier. It is often confused with the American Staffordshire Terrier, however, the United Kennel Club recognizes the American Pit Bull Terrier as its own distinct breed. Affectionately known as "Pitties," the Pit Bull is known for being a loyal, protective, and athletic canine breed.
Breed Group: Terrier Dogs Height: 17 to 19 inches Weight: 30 to 90 pounds Lifespan: 12 to 14 years
The standard size of the American Pit Bull Terrier varies from medium to large, with a weight range of 30–90 lbs. The Pit Bull has a stocky, muscular build and a short, smooth coat varying in color. The fluctuation in the size and color of the Pit Bull is due to the breed being a mix between different types of Bulldogs and Terriers.
The body of the Pit Bull is long, with a short, whip-like tail that ends in a point. Small- to medium-sized ears are set high on its broad, flat head. The most defining facial characteristic of the Pit Bull is its wide, powerful jaw.
Personality and Temperament
The protective and fearless Pit Bull is noted for its playful temperament and friendly nature. The Pit Bull is also athletic, and has a strong desire to please people.
The Pit Bull breed has a high prey drive due to its being bred to chase and subdue livestock. However, the Pit Bull is not naturally aggressive towards people and is affectionate toward children. Depending on early socialization and handling, the Pit Bull can learn to restrain itself from unwarranted aggression towards other dogs.
Because it is a highly energetic and active breed, the American Pit Bull Terrier requires daily exercise — the more vigorous the better — to overcome boredom and possibly destructive behavior. Like the Greyhound breed, the Pit Bull has a particularly strong prey drive and may chase retreating animals. Taking a Pit Bull on a leashed walk is undoubtedly an important part of socializing it to "play nice." However, care must always be taken to keep the Pit Bull on its leash, to prevent it from running off if it should spot a potential prey animal.
Due to their athleticism and diverse breeding background, the Pit Bull breed tends to be hardy, with an average lifespan of 12 to 14 years, longer than many breeds of a similar size. There are some genetic conditions to be watchful for. The Pit Bull tends to suffer from bone diseases such as hip dysplasia, degenerative myelopathy and kneecap dislocation. The Pit Bull can also suffer from skin problems, such as mange and skin allergies, because of its short coat. Other health ailments seen in Pit Bulls include thyroid and congenital heart defects.
History and Background
The Pit Bull’s origins can be traced back to early 19th-century England, Ireland and Scotland. The canine’s ancestors were the result of experimentally crossbreeding different Bulldog and Terrier breeds for the purpose of bear- and bull-baiting, a blood sport in which the dog was trained to attack until the larger animal was defeated. When baiting was banned in the 1800s, the dogs were then bred for the sport of ratting and dog fighting. European immigrants introduced the Pit Bull breed to North America.
Because of its controversial origins, the Pit Bull is not recognized by the American Kennel Club. This has resulted in the formation of two separate clubs for the specific purpose of registering Pit Bulls. The first was the United Kennel Club (UKC), which was formed in 1898 by founder C. Z. Bennett. The founder’s dog, Bennett’s Ring, was assigned UKC registration number one, making it the first registered Pit Bull in recorded history. The second club, the American Dog Breeders Association (ADBA), began in 1909 as a multiple breed association, but it has been dedicated mainly to Pit Bulls, as the original president, Guy McCord, was an avid fancier and breeder of the American Pit Bull Terrier.
Contrary to its dubious reputation as an aggressive breed, the Pit Bull is regarded by many as a friendly dog with an outgoing disposition. As those who are loyal to this breed are becoming more active in the education and training of the breed, the Pit Bull is fast becoming a popular companion pet once again.
Featured Image: iStock.com/Photography by Adri
Of all infectious diseases in cats, few are as feared as FeLV and FIV—and with good reason. Between 2-4% of feline population in the U.S. harbors one or both of these potentially fatal viruses. The…
Of all infectious diseases in cats, few are as feared as FeLV and FIV—and with good reason.
Between 2-4% of feline population in the U.S. harbors one or both of these potentially fatal viruses. Many clinics use an in-house test that checks for both viruses at the same time, and most wellness conversations about infectious disease covers both topics, so it’s easy to see why owners might confuse the two. But while they are similar, there are some important differences in both transmission and how the virus works in the body.
What Are FeLV and FIV?
Both feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) are retroviruses. Unlike some forms of virus that infect cells and then kill them, retroviruses actually alter the genetic material of the infected cell and turn cells into little virus factories. This process takes time, so in both cases cats may be infected for many years before becoming clinically ill.
How Do Cats Get FeLV and FIV?
Both FeLV and FIV can be transmitted through bite wounds. In the case of FIV, saliva from an infected cat is the primary mode of transmission. The FeLV virus is shed through saliva, nasal secretions, urine, feces, and milk; it may be transmitted through mutual grooming, from queen (mother) to kitten, bite wounds, or rarely, through shared litterboxes and feeding dishes.
These differences in transmission mean different populations of cats are at higher risk of infection. In the case of FIV, although both males and females get infected, intact outdoor males are at the highest risk of infection because they are usually the ones getting in fights. An FIV-positive cat that lives with other cats and interacts with them in a casual, non-aggressive manner is unlikely to infect them. Unlike FeLV, grooming is not thought to play a significant role in transmission of FIV.
With FeLV, the fact that casual cat-to-cat contact can result in infection means it is easier for cats to become infected, especially cats in the same household that spend a lot of time together. While cats of any age can become infected, kittens are much more susceptible to FeLV infection. The greater the virus exposure, the greater the risk of infection.
In both cases, the virus is very fragile in the environment and does not persist for a significant length of time outside of the body. Neither virus is infectious to humans.
What Happens When a Cat is Infected with FeLV or FIV?
In the early stages of both diseases, cats often show no symptoms at all. It is common for the cat to become mildly ill several weeks after infection only to return to an asymptomatic state for weeks, months, or even years. While it is believed the occasional fortunate cat can fight off an FeLV infection, there is no evidence this happens with the FIV virus. Progression of both diseases is unpredictable; cats may become progressively ill over time or experience bouts of illness interspersed with healthy periods.
In the case of FeLV, during this apparently healthy period the virus may be completely dormant or may still be present in excretions and a potential source of infection for other cats. In the later stages, FeLV causes a variety of symptoms based on the cells targeted by the virus. Diseases associated with FeLV can include:
- Intestinal disease
- Cancers such as lymphoma and leukemia
- Reproductive problems
- Secondary infections due to immunosuppression
- Poor healing
- Chronic respiratory infections
- Inflammation of gums
FIV causes a progressive destruction of the cat’s immune system through suppression of the white blood cells, so over time cats begin to show a variety of symptoms related to that immunosuppression. In addition to the low white blood cell count, symptoms often include:
- Inflammation of gums
- Skin infections
- Upper respiratory infections and pneumonia
- Weight loss
- Poor coat condition
- Seizures or behavior changes
How Are FeLV and FIV Treated?
As you can see from the list above, both FeLV and FIV cause a wide variety of symptoms in the cat; no two cases follow the same course. Veterinarians routinely recommend FeLV/FIV testing in cats because it is often an underlying contributing factor to a variety of diseases that appear unrelated, but because there is no cure for the virus, treatment is focused on relieving the symptoms of disease in the individual.
Despite this dire list of outcomes, it’s important to remember that many of these cats experience long and happy periods of health after the initial infection. A diagnosis of either FeLV or FIV should not be considered an automatic death sentence. Cats that have a confirmed diagnosis of either disease should be evaluated by a veterinarian twice a year, since they are so susceptible to a variety of diseases. In addition, the following is also recommended to owners to reduce risk to their cats, as well as to other cats:
- Schedule yearly bloodwork
- Spay or neuter your cat
- Keep your cats indoors, infected or not
- Do not feed a raw food diet to your infected cat
Are FeLV and FIV Preventable with Vaccines?
Vaccination against FeLV is recommended for all cats due to the prevalence of the virus and the efficacy of the vaccine. This is particularly important for young cats, which are at the highest risk of infection. As a cat ages, the decision on how often to boost the vaccine should be discussed with your veterinarian as the recommendations vary depending on the individual cat’s circumstances. FeLV vaccination does not interfere with the results FeLV testing.
An FIV vaccination exists but is considered more controversial, as its efficacy is less predictable. In addition, cats that have received the FIV vaccination may test positive for FIV during routine blood tests, even when they have not been infected. Certain at-risk populations may benefit from the FIV vaccine, but it is not routinely recommended for household cats.
While FeLV and FIV are dangerous and scary diseases, we know more than we ever have, not only in regards to prevention, but also the management of infected cats. With proper attention and care, we can minimize risk to other cats while giving FeLV or FIV positive felines the best chance at good health and a happy life.
Cornell Feline Health Center
Why FIV is Not a Death Sentence for Cats
Feline Vaccination Series: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3
Blood Disorders Related to FeLV Infection in Cats
Treatment of Mange in Dogs Treatment of mange includes topical medications, shampoos, and often antiparasitic medications. Sometimes antibiotics are warranted. Treatment is tailored for the different types of mange and the severity of the infection. Recovery and Prevention of Mange in Dogs
Mange is a skin disease caused by mites found at the hair follicles. It is caused by two different types of mites and can be contagious and zoonotic (transmitted from animals to humans).
The two types of mange include sarcoptic mange and demodectic mange.
Sarcoptic mange, which is also known as scabies, is caused by Sarcoptes scabiei. This type of mange is less common than demodectic mange, and typically affects homeless dogs, who are suffering and neglected. It is also more common in dogs with compromised immune systems.
Demodectic mange, or red mange, is caused by Demodex canis, Demodex injai, or Demodex cornei. This type of mange is transmitted between a mother and puppy during the feeding process. It is not contagious between other dogs and is not contagious to humans.
Clinical signs of mange include:
Alopecia (hair loss)
Excoriations (self-inflicted superficial or deep wounds)
Raised bumps (papules) most commonly on the chest.
Thick crusted skin typically found on the margins of the ears, the ankles (hocks), armpits, and elbows
Often, secondary skin infections occur because of the skin lesions. Weight loss, depression, decreased appetite, and lethargy can be caused by the severe itching and uncomfortable skin issues. Enlarged lymph nodes may be found too. A subtype of scabies called Norwegian scabies is characterized by severe skin crusting and is thought to be worsened by a compromised immune system.
Sarcoptic mites are often transmitted through close contact between dogs. This type of mite does not survive for long periods of time in the environment and needs a host to continue its life cycle. Scabies is not a direct cause of bad hygiene, but it can worsen through neglect or immunosuppression.
Demodectic mites normally live on the skin of a dog and benefit from the host, without causing harm. Typically, this mite is only passed between dogs when they are puppies and is most often passed from mother to puppy. This mite becomes mange when the mite overgrows the hair follicle.
Mange is typically diagnosed through a skin scrap test, a hair sample, or cytology.
The use of a scalpel blade is non-invasive and allows the vet to scrap the skim deep enough for some irritation but allows for a removal of the hair follicle at the root. It’s important for the entire hair follicle to be removed, since demodex is often buried deep in the root.
Other common tests that a vet may recommend include fecal testing, a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, or in some severe cases, a skin biopsy.
Treatment of mange includes topical medications, shampoos, and often antiparasitic medications. Sometimes antibiotics are warranted. Treatment is tailored for the different types of mange and the severity of the infection.
For scabies, any dog that has come into contact with the infected dog must be treated and the environment they live in, disinfected. This includes kennels, crates, collars, bedding, toys, etc. It’s important for dogs in the environment to remain on monthly or tri-monthly preventatives to avoid infection.
Demodectic mange does not require environmental cleaning as it does not often transmit between dogs, though a monthly or tri-monthly miticidal preventative is still recommended.
Most dogs with mange can expect a full recovery with appropriate therapy. For chronic cases, it’s typically due to an underlying systemic illness or secondary infections. Mange is fatal when dogs receive the wrong therapy, or their underlying medical conditions are not managed correctly.
Humans can get sarcoptic mange from dogs but cannot get demodectic mange from dogs.
Mange should not be treated at home if the clinical signs are moderate to severe. If your dog has a small patch of hair loss that she is not bothered by, you may wait 1-2 months to see if there is resolution. If the hair loss persists past this time; skin lesions are noted; or your dog is itchy, becomes lethargic, stops eating, or seems depressed, it is important to bring her to a veterinarian for assessment.
The early signs of mange include alopecia (hair loss); scaling or crusting of the skin; papules or bumps on the skin; mild, moderate, or severe itching; and self-induced excoriations (wounds).
Featured Image: iStock.com/Fricka