Wednesday, October 7, 2009

An Ounce of Prevention

I just got finished with an office visit of the sort that is unfortunately becoming all too common these days. An otherwise perfectly healthy middle-aged cat presented with severe (and painful) eye inflammation and sneezing, and wasn't eating well. Poor kitty had a fever and was simply miserable, and it didn't have to happen. And sadly, the cat didn't need to get sick enough to require costly medical attention. The culprit: feline herpesvirus, the most common respiratory virus in cats.

There was a time, just a few years ago, when I rarely saw patients for respiratory viruses, and when I did, they typically didn't need my help, just a little reassurance for the owner. But in the past two to three years, much more severe respiratory infections are becoming one of the most common things I see.

What is this about? Has a common virus suddenly become more virulent? I think not. The common thread with virtually every last one of these patients is that their annual vaccinations are overdue.

I have always recommended annual vaccinations for FVRCP (respiratory viruses and panleukopenia virus), and for many years my clients were largely compliant with my advice. But with the economic downturn and the false rumors of vaccines being terribly dangerous, an ever-decreasing percentage of my patients lacks this most basic preventive medical care.

Even though most cats are initially infected with feline herpesvirus as small kittens, like other herpesviruses, once infected, always infected. So why, you might ask, bother with a preventive vaccine? I wondered that myself, and then finally concluded after much pondering that the vaccine stimulates immunity that plays a critical role in keeping relapses of the viral infection from becoming severe. Why else would cats kept current on their FVRCP have such an obviously lower rate of respiratory infections requiring medical intervention?

This whole thing is just one more reason why it is so important to bring Kitty in for the recommended annual exam and vaccinations. The small amount you spend to do so pays big dividends when you consider how much less likely an expensive visit to deal with serious respiratory disease will be. An ounce of prevention is still a bargain after all these years.

Please make an appointment today if your cat is overdue for its annual checkup and vaccinations. It's the responsible thing to do.