Cat Upper Respiratory Infection

Cat upper respiratory infection is usually the result of infection with feline herpesvirus or feline calicivirus, though other causes may include Bordetella and feline reovirus. Feline upper respiratory infection is spread by direct contact between cats, or by contact with food disease, bedding and other materials which may have become contaminated with the eye or nasal discharge of an infected cat. There is no cure for feline upper respiratory infection, and while symptoms often resolve on their own, your cat will carry the virus and remain capable of spreading it to others. He may also be vulnerable to recurrent bouts of infection.

Causes of Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats

Feline upper respiratory infection affects the cat's mouth, nose and sinuses. Most cases are caused by infection with feline herpesvirus or feline calicivirus. Some cases of cat upper respiratory infection may be the result of infection by multiple viruses that attack the upper respiratory tract. Mycoplasmas, feline reovirus and Bordetella may also be involved in feline upper respiratory infection.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Cat Upper Respiratory Infection

Symptoms of cat upper respiratory infection can be mild to severe, and include:

  • Sneezing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Eye discharge
  • Corneal ulcers
  • Fever
  • Excessive salivation
  • Ulcers and lesions in the mouth
  • Gingivitis

Your cat may also experience a decrease in appetite, and appear lethargic and depressed. In some cases, feline upper respiratory infection may develop into pneumonia. It may cause miscarriage in pregnant cats.

Even after your cat recovers from the symptoms of feline upper respiratory infection, he'll continue to carry the virus or viruses responsible for his infection. This means he'll still be infected with the virus. He won't show any symptoms, but he'll be able to infect other cats. He'll be more likely to become contagious when he's feeling stressed, such as after a move or a vet visit, and he may have recurrent bouts of infection at times of stress or illness, when his immune response is hampered.

Your vet will diagnose feline upper respiratory infection by performing a physical exam, taking a complete medical history and doing blood tests to determine the exact cause or causes of the infection. Symptoms can be similar to those of feline leukemia virus and feline AIDS, so have your vet test for these viruses if your cat's respiratory infection lasts for more than two weeks.

Treating Feline Upper Respiratory Infection

Keep your cat quiet, warm and isolated from other cats as he recovers from his respiratory infection. Avoid contamination by washing your hands thoroughly after handling your infected cat or any food and water dishes, bedding, toys or other objects that have come in contact with him. 

Keep your cat's breathing passages and eyes as clear as possible by gently washing away any discharge with warm water. Encourage your cat to eat and drink as much as possible. Cats with upper respiratory infections lose their appetites because they can't smell food. Offer your cat tasty treats to encourage eating.

Your vet will prescribe topical medications to treat any ulcers or lesions in the eyes and mouth, and your cat may need antibiotics if he develops a secondary bacterial infection.