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Cat pox virus


Synonym(s): Cat pox, cowpox




  • Family: Poxviridae, sub-family: Chordopoxvirinae.
  • Genus: Orthopoxvirus.

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Clinical Effects



  • Reservoir host is wild rodents (particularly field vole and wood mice).


  • From small rodent reservoir.
  • Cats become infected when hunting, probably through skin inoculation but possibly oronasally.
  • Humans become infected when touching the cat's or cow's lesion (54 cases diagnosed in last 25 years).
  • Cat to cat transmission can occur, but the second cat rarely develops lesions.

Pathological effects

  • Having been infected once, cats mount a good immune response and the condition is usually self-limiting within a few weeks.
  • Primary lesion at site of entry usually on head, neck or forelimb.
  • Virus replicates at the site of entry and is transported to the draining lymph nodes where further virus replication causes viremia and subsequent development of widespread secondary skin lesions. During viremia, virus can be isolated from the lungs Lung: cowpox pneumonia - radiograph lateral , though respiratory disease is uncommon in catpox infection.


Control via chemotherapies

  • Feline pox is self-limiting, therefore no need for treatment unless secondary bacterial infection occurs when antibiotics should be given.
    Corticosteroids should NEVER be given as they can exacerbate the condition and on occasions have induced fatal systemic infection.
  • Possibly use Elizabethan collar Cat with nasogastric tube and Elizabethan collar or bandage feet to prevent self-trauma.
  • May bathe lesions to keep clean and prevent secondary infections.

Control via environment

  • To prevent infection of humans and indirect transmission by humans, good hygiene precautions essential around the infected cat until resolution of the pox lesion.
  • Immunosuppression may allow more severe disease in humans; therefore immunosuppressed people should not have contact with cowpox-infected cats.
  • Use of disinfectants, particularly hypochlorite (Domestos, Milton) on cat's bedding, food dishes.


  • No vaccine available for domestic cats.
  • In large cat collections, vaccination with vaccinia may be considered, though efficacy not known.

Other countermeasures

  • In large cat collections prevention relies on prompt, accurate diagnosis and isolation of affected individuals.
  • Fit a hunting domestic cat with a collar and bell for prevention.


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Further Reading


Refereed papers

  • Recent references from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Godfrey D R, Blundell C J, Essbauer S et al (2004) Unusual presentations of cowpox infection in cats. JSAP 45 (4), 202-205 PubMed.
  • Chantrey J, Meyer H, Baxby D et al (1999) Compox: reservoir host and geographic range. Epidemio Infect 122 (3), 455-460 PubMed.
  • Tryland M, Sandvik T, Holtet L et al (1998) Antibodies to orthopoxvirus in domestic cats in Norway. Vet Rec 143 (4), 105-109 PubMed.
  • Naidoo J, Baxby D, Bennett M et al (1992) Characterisation of orthopoxviruses from feline infections in Britain. Arch Virology 125 (1-4), 261-272 PubMed.

Other sources of information

  • Gaskell R M & Bennett M (1994) Feline Poxvirus Infection. In: Feline Medicine and Therapeutics Ed Chandler E A, Gaskell C J, Gaskell R M. Blackwell Science, Oxford OX2 OEL, UK. pp 515-520.


Virus isolation, histopathology, electron microscopy
  • Feline Virus Unit, Department of Veterinary Pathology, University of Glasgow, Bearsden Road, Glasgow G61 1QH, Scotland. Tel: +44 (0)141 330 5777; Fax: +44 (0)141 330 5748; E-mail:
  • Department of Veterinary Pathology, University of Liverpool, Leahurst, Neston, Wirral, UK. Tel: +44 (0)151 794 6012; Fax: +44 (0)151 794 6005.

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