Is Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats Contagious?

A feline upper respiratory infection (or URI) is an infection in the upper respiratory tract of your cat and involves areas such as the nose, throat and the sinus area. URI is more common in cats that live outdoors, in shelters, in catteries or in multiple pet households.

The breed of cat that’s most prone to URI is the Persian cat although all breeds are at risk of suffering from this infection which is similar to the common cold suffered by humans.

Symptoms of Upper Respiratory Tract Infection in Cats:

  • Nasal discharge
  • Sneezing
  • Discharge from the eyes
  • Cough
  • Ulcers in the nose or oral cavity
  • Fever
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pneumonia
  • Dehydration
  • Increased salivation 
  • Difficulty in breathing

Organisms Responsible for Feline Upper Respiratory Tract Infection

Both bacteria and virus can cause upper respiratory tract infection in cats. The 3 viruses mainly associated with this infection are the feline herpesvirus-1 or FHV, feline viral rhinotracheitis or FVR and feline calicivirus or FCV. A bacterial infection known as feline Chlamydia can also result in URI. Other organisms associated with respiratory infections are bordetella bronchiseptica, feline reovirus, mycoplasma, chlamydophila and the cowpox virus.

The Spread of the Infection

URI is an airborne infection that can affect healthy cats when they come in contact with infected cats. Objects like feeding bowls, bedding, litter boxes and toys serve as carriers of the infection. Young kittens, unvaccinated cats and cats in catteries or shelters are most susceptible to the infection. An infected pet can spread the virus to other cats through nasal discharge and sneezing.

Factors such as overcrowding, poor sanitation, stress, malnutrition, age, illness can predispose your pet to this infection.

Prevention of URI

It’s difficult to prevent feline upper respiratory tract infections especially in catteries or shelters. Managers of shelters and pet owners can reduce the frequency and severity of the infection by ensuring that the shelter or home is properly ventilated and cleaned. There should be a reduction of overcrowding and stress.

A nutritious diet can strengthen your pet’s immune system and can reduce the severity of the infection. Sick cats should be isolated and all cats should be regularly vaccinated and de-wormed.

Is URI Contagious?

Feline upper respiratory infection is very contagious and 80 percent of cats that have contracted the infection are contagious for months or years. They become carriers and can spread the disease when they come in close contact with other pets. If these cats become ill or suffer from stress, the infection can flare up again.

Vaccinations aren’t totally effective but are recommended by vets as they can reduce the severity of the infection that develops. Vaccinations also reduce the chance of the infection spreading to other cats. The best way to prevent your pet from contracting the infection is to isolate him from other cats.

Diagnosis and Treatment of URI

The vet diagnoses the infection with the help of a physical examination and conducts tests such as complete blood count tests, urinalysis, swab tests and chest X-rays. If the infection is bacterial in nature, antibiotics can help control it. Decongestants can also help reduce nasal congestion. You should encourage your pet to take in lots of fluids and eat well although his appetite will be adversely affected.

The prognosis in most cats is good. They recover within 8 to 10 days from URI but they remain carriers and can infect other cats.