Common Types of Respiratory Illness in Cats

Respiratory illness affects cats’ ability to breathe properly. Respiratory illness in cats can have various causes: infections, autoimmune and allergic reactions or genetically transmitted diseases. They usually manifest through sneezing, runny eyes, coughing and breathing difficulties. Left untreated, a respiratory illness can worsen.

Common Types of Respiratory Illness in Cats

Respiratory disorders in cats fall into 3 main categories:

  • Infectious respiratory diseases, generally viral diseases caused by the calicivirus, the herpes virus, and the rhinovirus. Infectious respiratory diseases affect the upper respiratory tract. Bacterial infections cause rhinitis and sinusitis
  • Autoimmune or allergic conditions such as asthma or allergies, which can develop into severe forms
  • Genetic conditions which may include heart conditions. The heart conditions can easily trigger respiratory diseases. These types of diseases are referred to as genetic respiratory diseases

Generally, respiratory illnesses in cats are treatable. The disease has to be identified as soon as the first symptoms manifest.

Viral Respiratory Illnesses in Cats

Infectious respiratory diseases occur mainly in cats that live outside or get in contact often with other cats. Most common infectious respiratory illnesses in cats are caused by the feline herpesvirus (FHV) and the feline calicivirus (FCV). FCV is not as severe as FHV. The two diseases manifest more or less the same symptoms, but they are milder in FCV:

  • Sneezing, nasal discharges
  • Runny eyes, conjunctivitis
  • Lack of appetite
  • Fever
  • Trouble breathing, dyspnea
  • Hypersalivation, (only in FHV)
  • Ulcers in the area of the mouth and nostrils (mostly in FCV)

The feline herpesvirus is treatable but in some kittens it can be fatal. It can also cause primary viral pneumonia and miscarriage in pregnant cats. FHV can lead to chronic rhinitis or sinusitis. Feline calicivirus is usually associated with feline immunodeficiency virus.

Infectious respiratory diseases are generally treated with antiviral medication, vitamin supplements and fluid therapy. Broad spectrum antibiotics can be administered to control secondary bacterial infections.

Bacterial Respiratory Illness in Cats

Respiratory conditions in cats can be caused by bacterial infections. Most common bacterial infections are rhinitis and sinusitis. Usually they manifest through:

  • Sneezing
  • Trouble breathing and breathing through the mouth
  • Runny nose
  • Loss of appetite and lethargy

The treatment depends on the severity and cause of the disease. It usually includes antibiotic treatments, flushing the sinuses and exposing the cat to vapors to open the nasal passages.

Autoimmune and Allergic Respiratory Illness in Cats

Asthma is the most common upper respiratory disease caused by allergens. The inability to breathe in asthmatic cats is caused by bronchial spasms due to an allergic reaction. Allergens that trigger allergic responses in cats are:

  • Smoke
  • Dust
  • Pollen
  • Chemicals
  • Mold and mildew

Usually, asthma manifests through frequent sneezing, coughing and breathing problems. Asthma attacks can be triggered by cold air, stress and various other irritants. Without any emergency intervention, cats could die because of a severe allergic or asthmatic reaction.

Asthma is not curable, but it can be controlled by daily administration of steroids (pills or inhaler).  

Genetic Respiratory Illness in Cats

Genetic respiratory illnesses are generally caused by an underlying heart condition. Heartworms can affect the cat’s ability to breathe. The enlarged heart disease also causes circulation problems and affects the cat’s respiratory function.