A scary cat virus is discovered — should you be afraid?

A newly discovered virus, feline morbillivirus, may be linked to deadly kidney disease in cats, Livescience.com reports. A study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that tubulointerstitial nephritis, a potentially fatal inflammation in a cat’s kidneys, was found in 58% of deceased stray cats who had the new virus (versus only 13% who were uninfected). Read the full article here.

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We caught up with Dr. Marty Becker of Vetstreet.com to ask what this news means for cat parents.

PETFINDER: Can cat parents get their cats tested for this virus?

No, at this time there is no commercial test available for
feline morbillivirus.
I’d like to stress that at this point, this disease is more interesting
in terms of virology than in any practical sense for veterinary
medicine.

As a practicing veterinarian who has seen far too many beloved pets
succumb to kidney disease, of course I hope to see diagnostics,
therapies and preventive medicine arise out of this research. We’re just
not there yet.


Are there any preventative measures cat parents can take to avoid exposing their cats to this?


Just the same general precautions that will protect against exposure
to any infectious disease, such as keeping cats indoors and making sure
your cat is regularly seen by a veterinarian so baseline kidney and
other organ function values can be established and changes to those
values caught at the earliest opportunity.

Do we know how it’s passed from cat to cat?

No.

Is feline morbillivirus something cat parents should worry about?

Right now, there’s no point in worrying about it as we don’t yet
know if the newly identified feline morbillivirus is responsible for
kidney disease in cats, we don’t have any way to prevent it, and we
can’t treat it. Cats should continue being screened for kidney disease,
particularly as they age, as there is a great deal that can be done to
keep them healthy and comfortable even as kidney function declines.

What impact will these findings have on veterinary practices and treatment and prevention of kidney disease in cats?

If the link between feline morbillivirus and kidney or other
disease is established by further study, it may present a number of
opportunities for intervention: Vaccination would be one such possible
intervention. Very early screening would also be a possibility, allowing
us to know a cat might be at risk of kidney disease years before we can
now detect faltering kidney function. But it’s far too early to be sure
that such a link will be clearly established. More research needs to be
done first.

What consequences, if any, do these findings have for the cat-rescue community?
We
don’t know this virus causes any illness at all in the cat, and there
are no tests or treatments for it at this time.
An infectious cause for feline kidney disease is certainly something
many veterinarians have long speculated on, and it’s my personal
prediction that some kind of infectious disease is behind some kidney
disease, but it’s too early to point to this particular virus as being
responsible, or to start thinking about changing our practices beyond
the same precautions shelters, foster homes and rescue groups should
already be taking to minimize the spread of infectious disease in the
pets in their care.

Come back on Monday for a feature on tubulointerstitial nephritis in cats, its diagnosis and treatment.

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More on kidney disease in cats:

Kidney Failure in Cats: An Introduction

Symptoms of Kidney Failure in Cats


Treatment and Prognosis for Kidney Disease in Cats

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