Feline Respiratory Infection

Feline respiratory problems, usually manifested through sneezing, can be either a simple flu or a more serious infection of the upper respiratory tract. Feline rhinotracheitis and the calicivirus are responsible for 90% of cat respiratory infections. Feline rhinotracheitis is a wide spread infection and kittens infected with this virus can develop a permanent sensibility of the nasal mucous membrane. The calicivirus can also present a threat to your cat’s health.

Respiratory infections spread easily among cats, so it is really important to isolate the cat diagnosed with a respiratory infection from other animals.

Feline Respiratory Infections

Feline respiratory infections are caused by viruses: the feline herpes virus causing feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR) and the calicivirus are responsible for the infections in most of the cases.

The infections are highly contagious and they can be transmitted through direct contact, through sneezing or coughing.

Respiratory infections in cats can lead to more serious health problems such as pneumonia and even death.

In pregnant cats, FVR can cause abortion.

Most infected cats become carriers of the viruses for the rest of their lives and can have relapses, especially under stressful conditions.

However, if your cat does not have any contact with other infected cats, his risk of being exposed to any of these viruses and developing a respiratory infection is extremely low.

The herpes virus only survives in the environment for about 18 hours, but the calicivirus can survive outside a host for up to 10 days.

Symptoms of Feline Respiratory Infection

Cats infected with either FRV or the calicivirus manifest the following symptoms:

  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes and conjunctivitis
  • Nasal secretions
  • Fever
  • Lack of appetite
  • Difficulties breathing
  • Fatigue and apathy
  • Coughing
  • Ulcers in the area of the mouth or nose
  • Meowing in a hoarse voice

Given that you could mistake these symptoms for signs of a simple cold, it is best to take your cat to the veterinarian for a checkup and a correct diagnosis whenever you see the first signs.

Treatment of Feline Respiratory Infections

Feline respiratory infections are usually treated with antibiotics which act mainly on secondary bacterial infections, but are also efficient against the agents causing the viral infections.

In some cases, additional fluid therapy or oxygen therapy might be requested and some cats might even need force-feeding.

Eyes and nasal symptoms are usually treated topically.

Given the highly contagious nature of the infection, the cat has to be isolated from other animals.

Prevention of Feline Respiratory Infection

Since it is better to prevent than to treat, it is recommended to consult your veterinarian on vaccination schedules, especially if your cat is exposed to contracting infections (i.e. he spends time outside and gets into contact with other cats).

However, even if your cat is vaccinated, he can still catch a wild form of the virus, so controlling exposure is the best method to prevent your cat from getting infected.