Feline Upper Respiratory Infections

Aachoooo!  Uh oh.

First a sneeze, then what next? A runny nose?  Watery eyes? A cough? To you, these are the signs of a cold setting in, but what happens when it is your CAT showing these signs?

Can a cat get a cold? Can it be contagious to you or your other pets?  And what can you do to help them feel better?

All these answers and more as we cover FELINE UPPER RESPIRATORY INFECTIONS in today’s blog.

What is a feline upper respiratory infection (URI)?

A feline URI is an infection of feline species (domestic and exotic) that affects the beginning part of the respiratory tract, including the nasal passages, sinuses, and pharynx (throat).

Depending on the infectious agent, sometimes the eyes, oral cavity and lower respiratory tract can also be affected.  The infectious agent of a URI is commonly a virus, but can also be a bacterium, and in rare instances even a fungus or parasite.  Some URIs can be a combination of multiple infectious agents.

Common upper respiratory viruses that infect cats are HerpesvirusCalicivirusChlamydophila felis and Influenza.  Some of the more common bacterial causes of feline URIs are Bordetella bronchiseptica and Mycoplasma felis.

How do cats get URIs? Are they contagious?

Feline URIs are highly contagious, with transmission occurring through direct contact with an infectious individual, aerosolized droplets or fomites (objects or materials like clothes or furniture on which infectious agents can survive away from an animal host).

cat being inoculatedCats that come from shelter situations, spend time outdoors around other cats or have owners that interact with cats outside the home, are at risk.  Clinical signs can last for a few days in mild cases, but can persist for weeks before resolving in moderate to severe cases.  Some infections can be chronic, entering into a latent (inactive) phase and then re-emerging intermittently throughout life during times of stress.

While most URI viral agents are highly contagious only among feline species, there are some agents that can affect dogs and even some that are considered zoonotic (infectious to people). Bordetella bronchiseptica, for instance, can be transmitted between dogs and cats, and very rarely humans.

The influenza virus, notorious for crossing species lines, has many strains.  An avian strain, the H7N2 influenza virus, has recently begun infecting shelter cats in New York City, and was even determined to have caused illness in a veterinarian as well.  Thus, well known feline URI causative agents, as well as newly emerging agents, can pose a threat to our feline friends. Additionally, the feline chlamydial agent has been reported to cause human conjunctivitis.

How do I know if my cat has a URI?

eye infection

Feline conjunctivitis

Clinical signs such as sneezing, conjunctivitis, nasal and ocular discharge, wheezing and general malaise can be an indication that your pet has a URI.  If you are suspicious of a URI, please contact us to set up an appointment.  During your appointment a thorough history and physical examination will allow us to determine an appropriate diagnostic and treatment plan for you and your pet.  We have the ability to test for feline URI causative agents, enabling us to develop an appropriate treatment regimen for each individual.

Are URIs treatable?  How can I protect my cat?

Feline URIs can be treated.  Treatment is determined by the causative agent of the URI.  Some URIs can be treated with antibiotics, while others can resolve with supportive care or, in rare instances, an anti-fungal or anthelminthic.  If your cat is showing signs of a URI, please consult with us to determine which treatment options may be effective for your pet.

Veterinarian and feline patient

If you own a cat, preventing infection before it occurs is the best medicine.  The 3 year

FVRCP (Distemper) vaccine we offer is designed to protect your cat against URIs.  Bringing your cat in for examinations and immunizations, as recommend, will help ensure his/her protection against URIs.  Additionally, keeping your pet away from high risk situations like outdoor cat interactions, unclean multi-cat boarding situations, and introduction of new shelter cats to the household, can reduce the chance of infection.

If you are concerned your cat has a URI or would like more information on how to prevent infection, please do not hesitate to contact our hospital.

It is our pleasure to serve you and your pets. Please do not hesitate to call our offices if you have any questions or concerns. Thank you for allowing us to be a part of your veterinary healthcare team. Schedule an appointment today!


Carlson Animal Hospital, Oak Park, IL 708.383.3606

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