Upper Respiratory Infections in Cats and Kittens
Causes, Symptoms and traditional and home treatments
A sudden sneeze, teary eyes and some nasal discharge...While cats have been known for many years to have 9 lives, it may be hard to accept that felines may come down with the sniffles just as humans do. Better known in veterinary offices as URI's, a short acronym for "Upper Respiratory Infections" cats and especially kittens are very vulnerable to this condition particularly when living cluttered together such as in shelters and catteries.
Transmission of Upper Respitary Infections in Cats
As mentioned, in order to come down with a URI cats must be living together. Just as humans are more prone to colds and the flu when working in small office spaces or traveling in airplanes, cats develop them when in close contact with other cats. The most common method of transmission is through sneezes and shared water and food bowls. Stress also plays a major role since it lowers a cat's immune response. It is not uncommon for a cat to come down with a URI a week after being spayed or neutered.
Cats are capable of transmitting the virus from several weeks to months after exhibiting symptoms depending on the type of virus. It is best therefore, to keep the affected cat isolated from other cats at this point.
Symptoms of Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats
A cat with an upper respiratory infection is not a happy camper. It will have severe bouts of sneezing for the first day or two followed by inflammed watery eyes often affected by conjunctivitis, a watery nasal discharge and a nice fever on top of that to make matters worse. Because the infection affects the nose, most cats will likely lose their sense of smell and therefore, they will lose their appetite, refusing food. As days go by, the watery nasal discharge will thicken becoming purulent and sticky. The cat may resort to opening their mouths at this point in a reasonable attempt to breathe better.
Because upper respiratory infection in cats are due to different strains of viruses accompanying symptoms may vary. Typically cats affected by the Herpes virus may develop also a cough and/or corneal ulcers and cats affected by Calicivirus may develop also several ulcers in the mouth and/or limping. Regardless of the cause, most cases seem to recover spontaneously within 7-10 days. However, cats with a lowered immune system or kittens may be prone to complications that may even turn fatal if not treated effectively.
Treatment of Upper Respiratory Infections in Cats
While most cats may recover spontaneously within 7-10 days, kittens and cats with a compromised immune system may need the assistance from a veterinarian. These are cats that are becoming malnourished from the lack of appetite and dehydrated from the substantial fluid loss resulting from the copious nasal discharge.
Cats may be helped to fight off the viral infection by administering a course of antibiotics. As odd as it may seem to fight off a virus with antibiotics, such protocol is used in order to avoid and effectively fight off potential secondary infections that may set. Regardless of treatment methods, some cats may develop chronic URI's along their lives.
At home, cats may be helped to breath better by running some hot water in the shower with the bathroom door closed. The cat should be allowed to breath some of the vapors ensuring the cat does not get wet. A home vaporizer may be helpful as well. If the cat is refusing food it should be enticed to eat by offering warmed up canned food since it releases its smell more once warm. Highly palatable foods are recommended for cats in order to encourage them to eat. Meat baby food with no garlic and onion may be offered. Nasal discharge should be promptly wiped to allow better breathing.
Prevention of Upper Respiratory Infections in Cats
Fortunately, there are vaccinations that can be started in kittens as young as 6-8 weeks old against distemper, herpes and calici virus. Kittens should finish the vaccination series and cats should receive annual vaccinations. While vaccinations may not eradicate these conditions completely, they significsntly reduce the duration and severity of these potentially fatal infections.
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