Friday, November 21, 2014

Feline Upper Respiratory Infection

A feline's upper respiratory tract consists of its nose, sinus area, and throat.  It's not uncommon for cats to suffer from an upper respiratory infection (URI) at some point in their life.  Knowing the signs of a URI can help you get your kitty prompt treatment when it's needed.


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.
  • Sneezing.
  • Nasal discharge (clear or colored).
  • Coughing.
  • Drooling or gagging.
  • Oral or nasal ulcers.
  • Eye discharge.
  • Decreased or loss of appetite.
  • Squinting.
  • Fever.
  • Lethargy.
  • Depression. 
  • 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.  



  1. Good info! We've had URIs in the past...and we hope there will be none in our future. We hope Carmine is feeling better.

  2. Great advice. I've never had a cat with a URI but this will be a great reference to have "just in case".

  3. That was sure great information! We got hit with that bad last year at Thanksgiving and this year too, but we managed to beat it back.

  4. Good info. Do stop by our auction for Georgie!

  5. Thank you for sharing this important information. Our mom is always on the lookout for URI and like us, hates calcivirus something fierce! Purrs...

  6. Binga gets an occasional URI. When she was rescued from the ACC, she was sick, and my human think being locked up in there permanently weakened her respiratory system.

  7. Meowmy had that in a kitten long ago. Once treated it didn't come back:)

  8. Great information, thank you ! Purrs

  9. Excellent post and very informative. I'm so happy you posted this as it's a good educational tool, and I learned several new things.

  10. That's great information. URIs can sure wreak hacoc if left untreated, so we're glad you shared about what to be on the lookout for.

  11. Very good job describing it! It's important for people to be aware that cats tend to be exceptionally adept at hiding illness so being aware of symptoms is a great idea. Thanks!

  12. Very informative piece. As if I need something else wrong with me I've been sneezing and snorfing these past few days. Mom's bringing me in for a follow-up appointment tomorrow morning. Honestly, I'm not doing too well. They're trying to be brave and hopeful, but I don't seem to be bouncing back from this latest round of crap. Thanks again for the wonderfully helpful information.

  13. Thanks for this post. It provided excellent and easy to follow information. XOCK, Lily Olivia, Mauricio, Misty May, Giulietta, Fiona, Astrid, Lisbeth and Calista Jo