Feline Upper Respiratory Infection

There are many causes of respiratory infections in the cat, both viral and bacterial.

Respiratory infections are most commonly viral and are usually highly contagious to other cats. Often they are mild and self-limiting. However, they can cause serious or even fatal disease, particularly if left untreated.

Direct contact or indirect contact, such as hands, clothing, food bowls, etc may spread these diseases. The viruses are commonly air-borne and can be spread from cat to cat over short distances without direct contact.

Clinical signs are usually seen 3-7 days after exposure.

Symptoms Of Feline Upper Respiratory Infection:

The most common clinical signs include

  • fever,
  • sneezing,
  • coughing,
  • gagging,
  • watery eyes,
  • nasal discharge,
  • drooling,
  • mouth ulcers,
  • and loss of appetite, which is the result of the loss of smelling reflexes.

Death is usually due to airway obstruction, dehydration, or malnutrition.

Diagnosis Of Feline Upper Respiratory Infection:

Diagnosis of feline upper respiratory infection is based largely on clinical signs. Your cat will need to be examined by your cat's veterinarian.

Other lab tests may also be necessary. Routine blood screens are frequently recommended to rule out other disease.

Testing for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus may be recommended to rule out contribution to disease by these viruses.

Radiographs (x-rays) of your cat's lungs may be necessary to rule out pneumonia or other pulmonary problems.

Less often, samples collected from the throat, nose, or eyes may be cultured and/or examined by other specialized tests (such as PCR) to identify the individual causative agent, which may be calicivirus, rhinotracheitis (herpes) virus, Bordetella, Chlamydia, Mycoplasma, or others.

Treatment Of Feline Upper Respiratory Infection:

Treatment is usually symptomatic and based on your cat's clinical signs.

Antibiotics are frequently used to control secondary bacterial infections which can become life-threatening.

Eye ointments or drops may be recommended to treat the eye problems which are frequently a part of upper respiratory disease.

More severely affected cats may need supportive care, including fluid therapy.

Other drugs which your veterinarian may or may not advise, based on your cat's individual situation, are interferon-alpha, which helps stimulate the immune system, and L-lysine, which interferes with the reproductive cycle of herpesviruses.

After recovery, your cat may continue to shed the virus for several months, possibly infecting other cats.

Recovered cats may soon be susceptible to re-infection unless appropriately vaccinated. Therefore all cats should be vaccinated as soon as possible after recovery.

Prevention Of Feline Upper Respiratory Infection:

Two of the more common causes of feline upper respiratory infections are the calicivirus and the feline rhinotracheitis (herpes) virus. The upper respiratory disease caused by these viruses is common and all cats should be vaccinated against these diseases regularly.

Other vaccines which may be advisable under certain conditions are the Chlamydia vaccine and the Bordetella vaccine. These vaccinations are not generally recommended as part of the "core" vaccination series, but may be helpful in shelter or cattery situations where feline upper respiratory infection has been documented to be caused by one or both of these organisms.

Your cat's veterinarian will be able to advise you of the vaccination protocol best suited to your cat's lifestyle.

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