Lower Respiratory Infection in Cats

A lower respiratory infection is less frequent than upper respiratory infections in felines. However, an upper respiratory infection left untreated can progress into a lower respiratory infection. There are several conditions that qualify as lower respiratory infections including pneumonia and emphysema. The condition has to be diagnosed and treated.

Chronic Bronchopulmonary Disease

The chronic bronchopulmonary disease is a term that is used for several conditions that affect the lower respiratory apparatus. The air passages and the alveolar space will be affected.

Common bronchopulmonary diseases include:

  • Asthma
  • Bronchitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Pulmonary disease
  • Emphysema

Causes of Respiratory Infections

A lower respiratory infection can be caused by an upper respiratory infection that hasn’t been treated.

Common causes of lower respiratory infections include:

  • The feline calicivirus (FCV)
  • The feline rhinotracheitis virus (FRV)
  • The coronavirus
  • Bacteria such as Bordetella or E. coli
  • Parasites such as Toxoplasma gondii

However, in some cases, the exact causes of lower respiratory infections cannot be pinpointed.

Felines with decreased immunity are more prone to developing respiratory infections.

Symptoms of Lower Respiratory Infections

A lower respiratory infection will manifest through several symptoms such as:

  • Coughing, due to the inflammation and irritation of the trachea or bronchi. The cough can be wet or dry
  • Secretions (i.e. transparent mucus) accompanying the coughing
  • Nasal secretions
  • Constriction of the air passages and difficulties when breathing
  • Negative reaction to smoke, chemicals and other allergens
  • Wheezing
  • Crackling

Diagnosing Lower Respiratory Infections

The diagnosis will be made based on the symptoms and the vet will also choose to perform some tests to get a clearer idea on what causes the infection.

The vet will perform:

  • A physical examination that will include the auscultation of the lungs and the palpation of the thorax
  • Blood tests
  • Serum biochemistry
  • An assessment of the mucous membranes
  • Radiographs and ultrasounds, which may reveal the presence of masses in the thoracic fluid
  • Testing the secretion samples
  • Fine needle aspiration
  • Biopsies (i.e. bronchial mucosal)

Treatment Options for Lower Respiratory Infections in Cats

The treatment of a lower respiratory infection will depend on the findings of the vet during the investigation process.

Most commonly, the vet will administer drugs to manage the symptoms and to treat the infection.

Frequently, antibiotics (i.e. doxycycline, penicillins, and fluoroquinolones) are prescribed and should be effective in eliminating viral and bacterial lower respiratory infections.

If there is major swelling of the air passages, the cat will receive corticosteroids, which will reduce the inflammation. Alternatively, the cat may receive anti-serotonergics or leukotriene receptor antagonists (i.e. Zafirlukast).

The cat should also be kept in a warm environment that doesn’t contain smoke, dust mites, chemicals or other irritants that could worsen the condition.

Steam baths may be recommended to facilitate the breathing and reduce the irritation of the air passages.

Bronchodilators and antitusive meds may also be part of the treatment.