A sudden sneeze, teary eyes and a runny nose… Cats as humans may occasionally come down with the common cold. Better known in veterinary offices by the acronym “URI”, cats and kittens are particularly vulnerable and prone to this often debilitating condition, especially when living cluttered together such as in feral colonies, shelters and catteries.
While cats may not be able to reach for a Kleenex or pass on some Vapor Rub, with a few simple tips, owners may be able to provide some relief for mild cases from the comfort of their home. However, it is of utmost importance that owners learn more about URI’s in the first place and what symptoms may suggest a prompt visit to the vet.
Transmission of Upper Respiratory Infections in Cats
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 URI’s 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 inflamed watery eyes often affected by conjunctivitis. A watery nasal discharge and a nice fever will be added on top of and owners soon will get the picture.
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 then resort to open mouth breathing, in a reasonable attempt to breath better.
Because upper respiratory infection in cats are due to different strains of viruses, the accompanying symptoms may vary. Typically cats affected by the Herpes virus may develop an accompanying cough and/or corneal ulcers while cats affected by the 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. Because kittens may go down hill pretty quickly, they should be seen promptly before the situation aggravates.
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 URI’s for all their lives.
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 booster vaccinations. While vaccinations may not eradicate these conditions completely, they significantly reduce the duration and severity of these potentially fatal infections.
Some Home Remedies (For Mild Cases Only)
- At home, cats may be helped to breath better by running some hot tap 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. This should allow to open up the airway passages, making it easier to breath. 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 the warmth helps release the smell more. 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. This can be accomplished by passing a wet sponge over the eyes and nose to keep the eyes clean and the nasal passages unobstructed.