Feline Upper Respiratory Infections are highly contagious viral infections that spread quickly among cats housed in close contact. The average housecat that is not exposed to rescued kittens, does not go outside and only lives with one or two other cats is unlikely to break with an infection. The most common symptoms include sneezing, nasal discharge, runny eyes, cough, fever, ulcers in the mouth and/or nose and vocal changes.
What causes an Upper Respiratory Infection?
There are multiple different infections that can cause upper respiratory symptoms. Approximately 90% of these infections are caused by either Herpesvirus or Calicivirus. Neither virus is transmissible to humans or other animal species. Other possible causes are Chlamydophila, Mycoplasma and Bordatella. The infection can be spread through direct contact between cats, sharing bowls or toys and even by clothing contaminated with wet sneezes. Bleach readily kills Herpesvirus and Calicivirus, but unbleached detergents are not effective.
How long will the symptoms last?
Most infections will run their course within 7-10 days regardless of treatment. However, the viral infections are often permanent and may recur following stressful events in your cats life (like moving, other illness, or adding a new pet to the household). Even after the symptoms have resolved, your cat may continue to shed the virus for days to weeks, risking transmission to other cats during this time.
How do we treat a Feline Upper Respiratory Infection?
Even though these infections are viral and must run their own course, we often prescribe antibiotics to prevent/treat the complication of a secondary bacterial infection. Cats and kittens with severe eye infections may also be prescribed a topical antibiotic eye ointment in addition to the oral antibiotics. In severe cases where the cat is sick enough to stop eating or drinking, becomes dehydrated from fluid lost in the nasal discharge or where painful ulcers have formed in the mouth, more aggressive treatment may be indicated. This may include hospitalization for IV fluids and IV antibiotics, sometimes even a feeding tube, until the symptoms begin to improve.
Is there a vaccine that can prevent this in my cat?
The Feline Distemper combination vaccine includes both the Feline Herpesvirus (also known as Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis) and Feline Calicivirus strains. However, it is important to note that many cats or kittens may have been exposed to the virus prior to adoption (especially if coming from a shelter) and given the permanent/recurrent nature of these infections, may still have flare-ups of infection throughout their lifetime.
If you are concerned that your cat may be experiencing symptoms of an Upper Respiratory Infection or want to know more information about how you can prevent these infections, please schedule an appointment with one of our doctors.