Sneezing and coughing are frequent symptoms in cats, particularly in kittens. Upper respiratory infection is the most common cause of these symptoms. Feline upper respiratory infections are sometimes referred to as “cat colds.”
What Causes Feline Upper Respiratory Infections?
There are a number of different viruses and bacteria that can cause upper respiratory infections in cats. The most common causes are two viruses: the feline calicivirus and the feline herpesvirus (also known as feline rhinotracheitis). Together, these two viruses account for approximately 95% of the feline upper respiratory infections. Other causes seen much less frequently include Mycoplasma (a type of bacteria), Bordetella (a virus) and other bacteria.
Symptoms of Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats
Upper respiratory infections occur most frequently in kittens and in young cats. However, cats of any age can be infected. Mature cats often have a greater immunity to the viruses, and their symptoms may be milder.
Upper respiratory infections are most often seen in cats undergoing periods of stress. They are particularly common in cats housed in shelter or cattery situations.
The symptoms seen in cats with upper respiratory infections are:
- runny eyes
- runny nose
- lack of appetite
One of the most common complications seen with feline upper respiratory infections is pneumonia. The upper respiratory infection can damage the normal defenses of the airways, making it easier for bacteria to invade and infect the lungs. Cats with pneumonia may have a very difficult time breathing. If you suspect your cat has pneumonia, you should have your cat seen by your veterinarian immediately.
Feline upper respiratory infections are typically extremely contagious to other cats. It is not unusual for the infection to infect all the cats in the household if a cat with an upper respiratory infection is introduced.
Infection with the feline herpesvirus is permanent. Thee cats may have recurrent bouts of sneezing and other respiratory problems. They may also have problems with their eyes.
Treatment of Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats
Because most cases of upper respiratory infections in cats are caused by viruses, there is no specific cure. Treatment is generally symptomatic in nature. Antibiotics are frequently administered to help prevent pneumonia. Eye ointments such as erythromycin ophthalmic (eye) ointment might be prescribed for runny eyes. Nursing care is important and involves keeping the nose clean and free of discharge as well as making sure the cat is eating.
If infection with Mycoplasma is suspected, azithromycin or a similar antibiotic may be recommended.
In chronic cases of feline herpesvirus, L-lysine is sometimes used and may be effective in relieving signs. If the eyes are involved, idoxuridine eye drops are sometimes recommended as well.
Preventing Feline Upper Respiratory Infection
Vaccinations against both calicivirus and herpesvirus are available. Both of these vaccines are considered core vaccines for cats. Core vaccines are those that are recommended for all cats.
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