Your cat's wheezing and coughing may just be a prelude to the birth of a fresh hair ball. Unfortunately, not all of the possible explanations for your pet's respiratory distress are so anticlimactic. The feline leukemia virus (FeLV) causes persistent lung problems due to fluid buildup in some infected felines.
Feline Leukemia Virus
If the leukemia virus makes it past your kitty's biological defenses, it starts to hijack blood cells by placing its genetic material into them. Your cat's body can stop the virus by creating antibodies if she is healthy and well-fed, so she may not get sick even if she is exposed to the virus. Roughly 2 percent of adult cats in the United States are infected with FeLV, but the rate among young and sickly cats is over 10 percent, according to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.
If your cat is panting rapidly instead of taking normal breaths or is using her mouth to breath instead of her nose, then there may be something serious going on. The virus does not lead to lung problems on its own, but some cats with FeLV suffer a rare type of malignant growth in their chest cavity. The "tumor" traps liquid in your pet's lungs, so it starts to accumulate as the days go by. The growths are more common in cats younger than 2 years and they occur rarely in healthy cats, according to the National Cat Centre.
Transmission and Prevention
Feline leukemia is very contagious. Fortunately, there is something you can do to keep your cat safe. Vaccinating a healthy cat makes him immune to infection, so you don't need to worry about your healthy cats getting FeLV. The virus spreads through the saliva, urine and other bodily fluids, according to Long Beach Animal Hospital. The leukemia virus doesn't survive long without a host and is vulnerable to basic household detergents. Have all feline newcomers tested for the virus before take them home to meet your cats.
Schedule a vet appointment for your cat if her breathing is unusual or if she's been wheezing and coughing for more than a day. Keep in mind that a FeLV diagnosis does not mean you are going to lose your companion in the near future. Your kitty could live happily for years before serious symptoms develop, although some cats pass away in less than a year. Create a stress-free environment for her and apply antibiotics as prescribed by your vet to keep secondary infections at bay. Always consult an experienced veterinarian regarding the health and treatment of your pet.
Quentin Coleman has written for various publications, including All Pet News and Safe to Work Australia. He spent more tan 10 years nursing kittens, treating sick animals and domesticating semi-feral cats for a local animal shelter. He graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in journalism.