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Cat Upper Respiratory Infections


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Many cats will develop what appears to be a "kitty cold" at some point in their lives. Contagious viruses such as feline herpes virus or calicivirus are most often to blame, but bacteria (e.g., Chlamydophyla, Mycoplasma and Bordetella) can also be involved. Determining which "bug" is to blame for an upper respiratory infection (URI) is usually not necessary since most cats recover uneventfully with similar treatment.

"If your cat fails to get better on her own or her symptoms are especially severe, take her to the veterinarian."


Which Cats Are Most at Risk?

Cats that are stressed, are grouped together, and/or have weak immune systems are at the greatest risk of coming down with an upper respiratory infection. Kittens are most frequently infected, particularly if they are born to a stray queen and are stressed by poor nutrition, inadequate living conditions, parasitism and other underlying diseases. Bringing cats together in animal shelters and boarding facilities can also promote the spread of upper respiratory infections between individuals.

The Symptoms of a URI

The most common symptoms of a URI in cats are:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Sneezing
  • Discharge from the eyes and nose
  • Red, swollen eyes
  • Ulcers affecting the eyes, mouth or skin
  • Drooling

Calicivirus will also sometimes cause swollen, painful joints and limping or a reluctance to move.

Treatment for Upper Respiratory Infections

If you suspect that your cat has an upper respiratory infection but she is still eating well and fairly active, you can try treating her at home. Isolation to prevent the spread of the disease and supportive care are both very important. Keep your cat's eyes and nose clear by frequently wiping them with a warm, wet cloth. If necessary, encourage her to eat and help keep her hydrated by offering canned cat food mixed with a little water. Warm it up slightly in the microwave to make it smell irresistible, but be sure to stir it well so there are no hot spots that could burn her mouth.

If your cat fails to get better on her own or her symptoms are especially severe, take her to the veterinarian. He or she may prescribe pain relievers, eye ointments, oral antibiotics, fluid therapy and nutritional support. In some cases, diagnostic tests to determine which microorganisms are involved or to look for an additional, underlying disease may be necessary.

Fel-O-Vax Cat Vaccine

Prognosis and Prevention

Most cats with an upper respiratory infection recover over the course of a week or two, but some individuals can have more persistent symptoms. Also, an especially aggressive form of calicivirus has recently emerged. Many cats infected with this virus die despite aggressive treatment.

In some cases, the feline herpes virus or calicivirus will lie dormant within the body of an infected cat for many years. These individuals may appear to be completely cured of their infections, only to have future flare-ups that tend to be initiated by stressful events. If your cat suffers from these flare-ups, your veterinarian can prescribe pet meds that might lessen their severity or frequency.

Vaccines for feline herpes virus and calicivirus are part of the regular vaccination schedule for most cats and help prevent or lessen the severity of some upper respiratory infections. Chlamydophyla and Bordetella vaccines are also available but should generally only be used under specific circumstances. Talk to your veterinarian about what vaccines are right for your cat and then buy them from VetDepot.com.


The above is provided for information purposes only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of any condition. This information does not cover all possible variables, conditions, reactions, or risks relating to any topic, medication, or product and should not be considered complete. Certain products or medications may have risks and you should always consult your local veterinarian concerning the treatment of your pet. Any trademarks are the property of their respective owners.


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