Upper respiratory infections can be caused by viruses or bacteria. The most common viruses responsible for URIs in cats are feline herpesvirus and feline calcivirus. WebMD asserts that 80 to 90 percent of all contagious URIs are caused by herpesvirus or calcivirus. Kitties may develop bacterial infections secondary to these viral infections as well.
Other URIs are primarily caused by bacteria. The most common bacteria that cause URIs in felines are Chlamydophila felis and Bordetella bronchiseptica.
The viruses and bacteria that most commonly cause URIs in cats are easily found in shelters, catteries, and multi-cat homes. Thus, cats in these situations are most at risk of developing upper respiratory infections.
A cat suffering from an upper respiratory infection may experience any of the following symptoms:
- Nasal congestion.
- Runny nose.
- Nasal discharge (clear or colored).
- Drooling or gagging.
- Oral or nasal ulcers.
- Eye discharge.
- Decreased or loss of appetite.
- Difficulty breathing - in severe cases.
How Does a Cat Get an Upper Respiratory Infection?
The bacteria and viruses that most commonly cause URIs in cats are very contagious. An infected cat sheds the infection through its saliva and through nasal and eye secretions. A susceptible cat may contract a URI from direct contact with an infected cat or through environmental exposure to things that have been contaminated with infectious secretions. For example, a susceptible kitty can contract a URI by sharing food and water bowls, cat toys, litter boxes, or blankets with an infected cat. Once infected with herpesvirus or calcivirus, a cat may become a lifelong carrier. While he or she may not exhibit any symptoms, he or she can still transmit the virus to other cats. Stress may cause reactivation of viral URI symptoms.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosis is typically made based upon clinical symptoms. Cell samples or eye or nasal discharge may be used to test for the specific bacterial cause of the URI, if necessary.
A veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics, eye ointment or drops, and/or fluid therapy for a cat with a URI. Kitties with nasal congestion may benefit from humidification. You can accomplish this by purchasing a humidifier or taking your cat into the bathroom with a steamy shower running for 10-15 minutes.
Cats often have a difficult time smelling their food when they have a URI. Therefore, feeding your cat very palatable food may encourage him or her to continue eating. In some cases, your veterinarian may prescribe an appetite stimulant.
Please visit your veterinarian if you think your cat has an upper respiratory infection. Left untreated, URIs can lead to serious complications, such as pneumonia, blindness, or chronic breathing difficulties.