An upper respiratory infection in cats can be scary, especially if you’re not sure what you’re dealing with.
In today’s article, we are going to cover everything you should know about upper respiratory infection in cats.
How cats contract it, whether or not it’s contagious, and what you should do if you think your cat is suffering from this disease.
What Is an Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats?
Feline upper respiratory infection, also known as URI, is an infection of the respiratory system in cats.
This disease can be caused by a number of viral or bacterial agents.
The most common viral causes of upper respiratory infection in cats are either Feline Herpesvirus Type-1 (FVR) or Feline Calicivirus (FVC).
The most common bacterial agents to cause this disease are Bordetella Bronchiseptica (B. Bronchiseptica) and Chlamydophila Felis (C. Felis).
And while there can be several culprits that lead to upper respiratory infection in cats, studies have shown that over 90% of the disease is caused by herpesvirus and calicivirus.
But how do cats contract these viral or bacterial agents that lead to upper respiratory infections?
Let’s find out.
How Does A Cat Contract an Upper Respiratory Infection?
Since the two main viruses causing upper respiratory infection in cats are incredibly contagious, catching and transmitting the disease is unfortunately very easy.
While herpesvirus can survive for up to 18 hours outside of a contaminated body, calicivirus is believed to last up to ten days and can live on nearly any surface.
Infected cats can carry transmissible particles in their saliva or even release these contagious germs in secretions from their nose or eyes.
These viruses, as previously mentioned, can live for hours or even days on surfaces such as toys, bedding, furniture, litter boxes, and more.
Unfortunately, healthy cats who have recovered from the virus may not always be safe.
You see, many of these bacterial and viral diseases that cause upper respiratory infection in cats can be carried by a healthy cat who has recently recovered.
In some cases, pregnant female cats who have previously had one of these diseases may even pass the bacterial or viral infections on to their newborns.
Is Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats Contagious to Other Pets and Humans?
Is upper respiratory infection in cats contagious to humans? What about other household pets?
The bacterial and viral infections that cause upper respiratory infections in cats are incredibly contagious and can live on many surfaces for hours and even days.
Since we know these diseases are incredibly contagious to other cats, it is natural to worry about other household pets and even our own family members.
Luckily, most of the communicable diseases that lead to upper respiratory infection in cats are species-specific.
Meaning they only affect cats and will therefore not affect humans or other animal species.
However, there are cases in which certain diseases, such as Bordetella bronchiseptica can cause people to fall ill, especially if they have a weakened immune system caused by an immune system disorder.
However, keep in mind that contracting a disease from your cat is extremely rare and the chances of experiencing a zoonotic type infection are incredibly low.
Still, in all cases, the best course of action is to practice safe hygiene the same way you would if a family member had a contagious illness.
Wash your hands frequently and clean surface areas where the ill cat has been with a bleach-based cleaner.
If you have a sick cat and you or someone in your family comes down with cold-like symptoms such as runny or sore eyes, or indications of upper respiratory issues, it is always best to consult a doctor.
How Long Does the Average Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats Last?
If you believe your cat has contracted an upper respiratory infection, the first thing you should do is isolate him from other household cats and then consult your veterinarian.
Your vet may advise you that upper respiratory infections in cats typically last anywhere from 7 to 21 days.
However, the average duration of an upper respiratory infection in cats is about ten days.
Keep in mind that an upper respiratory infection in cats does not present itself immediately.
In fact, the infection typically goes through an incubation period that lasts anywhere from two to ten days before you will notice any symptoms.
It is important to isolate your cat from other household cats the moment you notice symptoms, as we know the viral and bacterial agents are almost always going to be contagious.
Herpesvirus and upper respiratory infection in cats
If your cat suffers an upper respiratory infection caused by the herpesvirus (FVR) then your cat will, unfortunately, become a chronic carrier of the disease.
This means they will have the disease for the rest of their life, although you may never see symptoms again.
However, symptoms of upper respiratory infection in your cat with FVR could present themselves again during times of stress.
Remember, if your cat contracted an upper respiratory infection through FVR and is now a chronic carrier, he could be contagious to other cats even when showing no symptoms.
If your cat has contracted an upper respiratory infection through calicivirus, on the other hand, there is about a 50% chance that he will become a chronic carrier.
Luckily, there have been cases where a cat who contracted an upper respiratory infection through the calicivirus was only a chronic carrier for a few months and then was no longer contagious to other cats.
The only way to know for sure if your cat is a chronic carrier after suffering from a viral or bacterial disease that caused upper respiratory infection is to consult with your veterinarian.
Symptoms of Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats and When to Seek Help
Symptoms of upper respiratory infection in cats typically involve the nose and throat and can include:
- Conjunctivitis (inflammation of the lining of your cat’s eyelids)
- Nasal congestion
- Discharge from your cat’s nose or eyes which can be clear or can become cloudy or pussy
In severe cases, your cat may experience:
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Squinting eyes
- Difficulty breathing
In many FVR and FCV cases, symptoms could also include mouth ulcers.
Keep in mind that symptoms will present themselves differently in different cats.
If you are noticing one or more of the above symptoms in your cat, isolate him from other household cats and begin treatment.
While most upper respiratory infections can be treated at home, there are severe cases that will need veterinarian consultation.
For example, if your cat is experiencing any of the symptoms of a severe case of respiratory infection, you should consult your veterinarian as soon as possible.
How is Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats Diagnosed and Treated?
As previously mentioned, most upper respiratory infections in cats can be treated at home. However, if you feel you have a severe case on your hands, you should consult your vet.
Your vet may advise you to bring your cat in for tests.
In most cases, your vet will not prescribe your cat upper respiratory infection antibiotics since viral infections do not respond to these medications.
However, your vet may suggest eye medication if your cat is suffering any eye discharge.
While viral infections cannot be cured with antibiotics, sometimes a vet will prescribe antibacterial drugs to help prevent secondary bacterial infections.
This is typically done with kittens, as they have a more fragile immune system and are generally more delicate.
The best antibiotic for feline upper respiratory infection will be decided by your veterinarian, as antibiotics are chosen specifically based on their effectiveness against the particular disease your cat is suffering from.
If you have an instance where cat upper respiratory infection is not responding to antibiotics that were prescribed or other in-home treatments, your vet may have you bring your cat in for more testing.
In most cases, cat upper respiratory infection treatment can be done at home.
Home remedies for upper respiratory infection in cats must be approved by your vet
There are many natural remedies for cats with upper respiratory infections such as using humidifiers or placing your cat in a steamy bathroom while the shower runs.
Nose drops may also be utilized if your cat is suffering from excessive nasal discharge.
Also, keep in mind that when a cat has an upper respiratory infection, they typically have a reduced appetite.
In some cases, an appetite stimulant will be needed to keep your cat eating.
Of course, always be aware of how much your sick cat is drinking, as staying hydrated is very important.
What Routine Treatments Can Prevent Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats?
Since the two main diseases that cause upper respiratory infection in cats are highly contagious, the best way to help avoid introducing these bacterial or viral agents to your cats is by cleaning surface areas as often as possible with a bleach-based cleaning solution.
Wash toys and bedding often and clean out your cat’s litter box daily.
You can also spray down counters and other surface areas your cats frequent with a bleach-based cleaning spray.
Special Cases of Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats
As previously mentioned, chronic upper respiratory infection in cats means that they can be carriers throughout their lifetime whether or not they harbor any symptoms.
In these cases, you’ll want to consult with your veterinarian on how to best keep any other household cats safe from contracting this disease, as it can be highly contagious.
Female cats who are chronic carriers and become pregnant have a chance of passing this infection on to their newborns, so consult a veterinarian if you have a pregnant cat who you believe is a chronic carrier.
Remember, the bacterial and viral infections that cause upper respiratory infection in cats are highly contagious, and there may be a chance your cat contracts this disease in its lifetime.
However, with vigilance, diagnosis, and proper care, your cat can get through this infection and go on to live a normal, happy life for many years to come.
References and Further Reading
- Yamamoto et al. Epidemiologic and Clinical Aspects of Feline Immunodeficiency Virus Infection in Cats from the Continental United States and Canada and Possible Mode of Transmission, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association,
- S H Binns et al. A Study of Feline Upper Respiratory Tract Disease with Reference to Prevalence and Risk Factors for Infection with Feline Calicivirus and Feline Herpesvirus, Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery,
- Helps, et al. Factors Associated with Upper Respiratory Tract Disease Caused by Feline Herpesvirus, Feline Calicivirus, Chlamydophila Felis and Bordetella Bronchiseptica in Cats: Experience from 218 European Catteries, Wageningen University and Research,
- Tina M. Rees et al. Oral Supplementation with L-Lysine Did Not Prevent Upper Respiratory Infection in a Shelter Population of Cats, Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery,
- Jane E. Sykes et al. Prevalence of Feline Chlamydia Psittaci and Feline Herpesvirus 1 in Cats with Upper Respiratory Tract Disease, Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine,
- Rachel E. Burns et al. Histologic and Molecular Correlation in Shelter Cats with Acute Upper Respiratory Infection, Journal of Clinical Microbiology,
- A.D. Hartmann et al. Efficacy of Pradogloxacin in Cats with Feline Upper Respiratory Tract Disease Due to Chlamydophila Felis Mycoplasma Infections, Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine,
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