A Guide to Feline Upper Respiratory Disease

The most common illness for a domesticated cat to contract is feline upper respiratory disease. Upper respiratory disease in a cat is basically the same as a cold is for a human, in that it is a result of either a bacterial or a viral infection in the back of the mouth or throat. Depending on the specific species of pathogen infecting a cat, the upper respiratory disease will be more or less contagious, but in general, feline upper respiratory disease will easily spread to other cats or people who share a living space with the infected cat.

Symptoms and When to Call the Vet

Some signs that your cat could have upper respiratory disease are a decreased appetite, coughing or wheezing, bloodshot eyes or a fever. Usually, these small infections are only a minor inconvenience for the cat, but in rare cases, upper respiratory infections have been known to kill cats. Young kittens, which can develop pneumonia or die of dehydration from excessive nasal discharge, are at the greatest risk of contracting a fatal upper respiratory disease.

Some signs that would suggest that your cat's upper respiratory infection is very serious and requires veterinary attention are extreme appetite loss or difficulty breathing. You can tell if your cat is having difficulty breathing if it is making a lot of noise with each breath and breathing with its mouth open like a dog. Other symptoms of a severe feline upper respiratory disease are ulcers on the eyes, nose or mouth, or a fatigued and listless attitude, which is usually the result of a high fever.

Treating Feline Upper Respiratory Problems

Ninety percent of feline upper respiratory disease cases are the result of a viral infection. Viral infections are almost always involved with a pet cat coming down with an upper respiratory disease because viruses are much smaller and less complex than bacteria, which makes it much harder for the immune system to fight off viral infections. While the initial cause of most feline upper respiratory diseases is almost always a virus, a secondary bacterial infection often arises after the viral infection has sufficiently degraded the cat's immune system.

Since most feline upper respiratory disease cases involve harmful bacteria, antibiotics in the tetracycline family, such as doxycycline, are most often given to cats to help treat the bacterial part of their upper respiratory disease. It is difficult to fight a viral infection, so the best thing you can do is prevent your cat from ever getting one. Get your cats vaccinated to enhance their immunity to the most common feline upper respiratory disease viruses. To relieve your cat of nasal congestion resulting from an upper respiratory infection, you can use human nose drop products.

Feline upper respiratory disease is a very common, very contagious disease, some of the pathogens of which can infect humans as well as cats. If you don't take steps to help your cat avoid or heal from an upper respiratory infection, the disease may become serious, requiring expensive veterinary care, or the disease could spread to the other inhabitants of your household.