Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

icon November 3, 2023

Cats, like humans, can also suffer from upper respiratory infections (URIs). These infections, often referred to as the "common cold" in cats, are quite prevalent and can be caused by various viral and bacterial agents. Upper respiratory infections in cats are highly contagious and can be a cause of concern for cat owners. In this article, we will explore the causes, symptoms, treatment, and home remedies for cat upper respiratory infections, along with questions like how long they last, whether they go away on their own, and if indoor cats can get infected.

Causes of Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats

Upper respiratory infections in cats are typically caused by viral and, less commonly, bacterial agents. The most common viral culprits include:

1. Feline Herpesvirus (FHV-1): Feline herpesvirus is one of the most common causes of upper respiratory infections in cats. Once a cat is infected with FHV-1, the virus remains in its system for life, periodically reactivating during times of stress or illness.

2. Feline Calicivirus (FCV): Calicivirus is another common viral cause of URIs in cats. It can lead to symptoms such as sneezing, nasal discharge, and mouth ulcers.

3. Chlamydia psittaci: Chlamydia is a bacterial agent that can cause respiratory infections in cats, often accompanied by conjunctivitis (eye inflammation).

4. Bordetella bronchiseptica: This bacterium is more commonly associated with kennel cough in dogs but can also cause respiratory infections in cats.

These infections are typically spread through close contact with infected cats, contaminated objects, or aerosolized particles from sneezing and coughing.

Symptoms of Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats

Recognizing the symptoms of upper respiratory infection in cats is crucial for early intervention and treatment. Common signs and symptoms of a URI in cats include:

1. Sneezing: Frequent and persistent sneezing is a typical sign of a URI in cats.

2. Nasal Discharge: Cats with URIs often have clear or mucopurulent (thick and discolored) nasal discharge.

3. Coughing: Coughing may occur, especially when the infection affects the lower respiratory tract.

4. Watery or Squinting Eyes: Eye discharge, watery eyes, or squinting due to conjunctivitis is common with some URI-causing agents.

5. Drooling and Ulcers: Cats with FCV may experience drooling and develop painful mouth ulcers.

6. Reduced Appetite: Cats with URIs may lose their appetite due to a reduced sense of smell, which affects their ability to taste food.

7. Lethargy: URI symptoms can make cats feel tired and lethargic.

8. Fever: A cat's body temperature may rise, indicating the presence of an infection.

Is Upper Respiratory Infection Contagious in Cats?

Yes, upper respiratory infections in cats are highly contagious. Cats can transmit the infection to one another through close contact, shared bedding, food and water dishes, grooming, and even through sneezing and coughing. Kittens and cats in crowded or stressful environments, such as shelters or multi-cat households, are particularly vulnerable to contracting and spreading URIs.
It's crucial to isolate infected cats from healthy ones to prevent further spread of the infection. Additionally, practicing good hygiene, like washing your hands after handling an infected cat, can help reduce the risk of transmission.

Note: While the primary concern for URI transmission is among cats, there is a lower risk of transmission to dogs and an even lower risk to humans. To minimize the risk of transmission, it's essential to practice good hygiene, isolate infected cats, and seek prompt veterinary care to manage and treat URIs effectively.

How Long Does an Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats Last?

The duration of an upper respiratory infection in cats can vary depending on several factors, including the causative agent, the cat's overall health, and the promptness of treatment. Generally, a mild URI may last one to two weeks, while more severe infections can persist for several weeks or even months, especially if left untreated.

Treatment for Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats

Treatment for a cat with an upper respiratory infection typically involves a combination of supportive care and, in some cases, medications. Here are the key components of treatment:

1. Veterinary Examination: When you suspect your cat has a URI, it's important to consult a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

2. Medications: Your vet may prescribe antibiotics if a bacterial infection is suspected. Antiviral medications can help manage viral infections. Other medications, like decongestants or eye drops, may be recommended to alleviate specific symptoms.

Recommended Medications For Cats&Dogs:

Amoxicillin and Clavulanate Potassium Tablets for Dogs&Cats

Amoxicillin and Clavulanate Potassium Tablets for Dogs&Cats:
To treat a variety of bacterial infections, including skin infections, urinary tract infections, respiratory infections, and more.

Puainta® Treatment for Cough, Cold, Sneezing and Runny Nose; Tablets for Cats Only

Doxycycline Hyclate Tablets:

  • Treatment for cough, inflammation, and bacterial infection of respiratory tract
  • Long-lasting efficacy
  • It’s easy to feed your cats as it’s designed as small tablets
Bronchitis Treatment  Jiebai Granules:
  • Good palatability of lure food package
  • Easy to feed dogs and cats without vomiting
  • High Efficiency and Quick Cough Relief

3. Supportive Care:
Proper nutrition and hydration are vital. Ensure your cat continues to eat and drink, even if their sense of smell is affected. You may need to offer moist or highly palatable food to entice them. Humidifiers or a steamy bathroom can help with congestion and breathing difficulties.

4. Isolation: Isolate the infected cat from other cats to prevent the spread of the infection. Use separate bedding, food, and water dishes, and practice good hygiene when handling the sick cat.

5. Stress Reduction: Reducing stress can help cats with chronic URI infections, especially those triggered by FHV-1, as stress can lead to virus reactivation. Providing a calm and stress-free environment is essential.

Home Remedies for Cat Upper Respiratory Infection Treatment

In addition to veterinary care, there are several home remedies and practices that can help alleviate the symptoms and support your cat's recovery from an upper respiratory infection. It's important to note that while these home remedies can be helpful, they are not a substitute for professional veterinary care.

1. Steam Therapy: Create a steamy environment for your cat to help alleviate congestion. Run a hot shower and sit in the bathroom with your cat for a few minutes. The moist air can help your cat breathe more comfortably.

2. Humidifier: Using a humidifier in your cat's living space can help keep the air moist, which may ease breathing difficulties and reduce nasal congestion.

3. Encourage Hydration: Ensure your cat is drinking water by offering fresh, clean water in a clean bowl. Some cats may prefer drinking from a cat water fountain.

4. Nutrient-Rich Diet: Provide your cat with a balanced and highly palatable diet to maintain their strength and overall health. Wet food can be more appealing to cats with a diminished sense of smell.

5. Gently Clean Nasal Discharge: You can use a soft, damp cloth to clean away dried nasal discharge, which may help your cat breathe more comfortably.

6. Lysine Supplements: Lysine is an amino acid that can help manage feline herpesvirus infections. Consult your veterinarian before adding any supplements to your cat's diet.

7. Encourage Rest: Ensure your cat gets plenty of rest and sleep to aid in the healing process.

Do Cat Upper Respiratory Infections Go Away on Their Own?

Mild cases of upper respiratory infections in cats may improve on their own, but it's not advisable to rely on this as the primary treatment strategy. While some cats may recover without intervention, leaving a URI untreated can lead to more severe complications or a prolonged illness. Additionally, it's important to determine the underlying cause of the infection, as viral infections like FHV-1 can become chronic and lead to recurring symptoms.

Can an Indoor Cat Get an Upper Respiratory Infection?

Yes, indoor cats can get upper respiratory infections. Even though indoor cats are generally at a lower risk of exposure to infectious agents than outdoor cats, there are still ways they can contract URIs. Indoor cats can become infected through:

1. Visitors: If guests or family members who have been in contact with infected cats bring the virus or bacteria into the home.

2. Contaminated Objects: Shared toys, bedding, food and water dishes, or grooming tools can harbor infectious agents and spread them to indoor cats.

3. Rescues or Adoptions: Cats adopted from shelters or rescue organizations may have been exposed to URIs in a crowded and stressful shelter environment.

4. Other Pets: If there are other pets in the household that go outside, they may bring pathogens back inside.

5. Stress: Stress can weaken a cat's immune system, making them more susceptible to infections, even in an indoor environment.


Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment
Upper respiratory infections in cats are common and highly contagious. Prompt veterinary care is essential to diagnose and treat these infections effectively. In addition to medical treatment, home remedies, and supportive care can help alleviate symptoms and speed up the recovery process. While some cases of URI in cats may resolve on their own, it's best not to rely on this, as untreated URIs can lead to complications. Maintaining good hygiene, isolating of infected cats, and reducing stress in multi-cat households can help prevent the spread of these infections. Even indoor cats can be at risk of contracting URIs, so it's important for cat owners to be vigilant and proactive in protecting their feline companions from these common illnesses.

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