Upper Respiratory Infections in Cats and Kittens
Does Your Cat Have a Runny, Bubbly, or Stuffy Nose?
A sudden sneeze, teary eyes, and some nasal discharge . . . While cats have been known for many years to have nine lives, they can still come down with the sniffles just like humans do. Cats and especially kittens are very vulnerable to upper respiratory infections (better known in veterinary offices as URIs), especially when living together in large groups such as in shelters and catteries.
Transmission of Upper Respiratory 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.
Common URI Transmission Methods
- Shared water dishes
- Shared food dishes
- Cats grooming other cats
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 and its eyes, especially if affected by conjunctivitis, will become inflamed and watery. Watery nasal discharge and a nice fever on top of that make matters even worse. Because the infection affects the nose, most cats will likely lose their sense of smell and, in turn, lose their appetite. Refusing food is not uncommon in cats with URIs. As days go by, the watery nasal discharge will thicken and become purulent and sticky. The cat may resort to opening its mouth at this point in an attempt to breathe better.
Because upper respiratory infections in cats may be the results of different strains of viruses, accompanying symptoms may vary. Typically, cats affected by the Herpes virus may develop a cough and/or corneal ulcers, and cats affected by Calicivirus may develop 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.
Common URI Symptoms
Loss of sense of smell
Treatment of Upper Respiratory Infections in Cats
While most cats may recover spontaneously within 7-10 days, kittens and cats with compromised immune systems may need 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 in. Regardless of treatment methods, some cats may develop chronic URIs that recur throughout their lives.
How to Make a Cat With a URI Comfortable at Home
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 breathe some of the vapors but should not be allowed to 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. Meaty 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 calicivirus. Kittens should finish the vaccination series and cats should receive annual vaccinations. While vaccinations may not eradicate these conditions completely, they significantly reduce the duration and severity of these potentially fatal infections.
For further reading
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
We brought home a new kitten, and now our previously healthy cat is coughing and sneezing. Is there a vaccine that will prevent a new cat in our environment from catching the herpes virus?
Yes, ask your vet about Felocell 3 which protects against feline herpesvirus, calicivirus, and feline parvovirus. It is given by injection, and sold under the alternate trade name Felocell CVR. There's also Felomune CVR, which is a nose-vaccine protecting against feline herpesvirus and calicivirus. Consider that it takes some time for these vaccines to be effective before introducing a new kitten.Helpful 11