Symptoms and Treatment of Upper Respiratory Infections in Cats

Symptoms and Treatment of Upper Respiratory Infections in Cats

Health & Safety

Cats are wonderfully graceful creatures and they're hugely independent too. But cats also love to mess around with their owners when it suits them which is why they are such wonderful pets to have around a home. Cat lovers the world over always want the best for their pets which is why it's so important for them to recognise the early signs of a health problem. Just as in humans, many conditions are treatable if caught early enough which means cats make full recoveries when treated quickly with the right medication.

Upper respiratory infections in cats can be caused two types of virus, but if a secondary bacterial infection is allowed to develop, the symptoms can become much more severe. The virus known as feline calicivirus is normally the cause of the milder cases of the infection whereas the feline herperviral infection tends to be much more severe, but both conditions need to be treated as early as possible to prevent a secondary bacterial infection from setting in which could prove to be fatal for any cat.

Symptoms to Watch Out For

With upper respiratory infections there are usually two quite distinct phases to watch out for – the first being the acute phase which is subsequently followed by the second chronic phase. The symptoms however, may vary quite a lot as will the severity of the infection. This is especially true in the acute phase of the infection.

The first signs of a problem appear around two to three weeks after a cat has been exposed to any of the infectious organisms and then reaches its peak around ten days after this – the symptoms to look out for are as follows:

  • Repeated bouts of sneezing
  • Redness in the eyes which are inflamed and irritated looking – similar looking to conjunctivitis
  • A watery discharge from the eyes
  • Watery discharges from the nose
  • Listlessness and lethargy
  • Apathy
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite which leads on to anorexia

As the condition progresses to the fourth or fifth day, cats will start to develop the following symptoms some of which can be combined with others:

  • A slimy, thick discharge from the eyes
  • A slimy, thick discharge from the nose will appear
  • A thick discharge from the eyes containing pus
  • A thick discharge from the nose containing pus
  • Heavy nasal congestion
  • Cats will breath through their mouths due to blocked nasal passages
  • Cats will have difficulty in breathing and show shortness of breath – dyspnea
  • Cats wheeze loudly with increased sounds in their airways
  • Coughing spasms
  • Corneal ulceration
  • Very severe redness in the eyes with a lot of swelling and irritation
  • Ulcers in the mouth, gums, lips and tongue that start with small blisters

Cats at this stage feel very uncomfortable and naturally go off their food altogether. This can make the condition even worse as it weakens the animals immune system considerably. Other symptoms to that may occur include the following:

  • Complete loss of appetite and refusal to drink
  • Excess drooling and salivation – pytalism
  • Swelling of the face and limb – this is not very commonly seen but can occur
  • Vomiting – not very common
  • Diarrhea – not very common
  • Dehydration

As cats reach the chronic phase of an upper respiratory infection, they become “carriers” of the virus. The majority of cats, although not all, that have been infected with either the herpesvirus and/or the feline calicivirus do become chronic carriers of the viruses even after they recover from the clinical signs of the condition.

There are times when a cat is more susceptible to catching an upper respiratory infection and this is especially true when their immune systems are weakened. This can happen when your four legged friend has been ill or when a female is pregnant as well as during lactation. Stress is another factor that can weaken the immune system and this can be caused by a variety of things – including a change in routine, new pets introduced into the home, anaesthesia, surgery or even a ride in the car. When the immune system is low, the viral organisms can take hold quickly and reproduce at an alarming rate causing a lot of discharge from the eyes and nose.

Treating Upper Respiratory Infections

If you notice your cat showing any of the symptoms mentioned above, and are unsure of what to do, then you should take them to see a vet as soon as you can so that a diagnosis can be made. Early treatment of the condition means less stress and discomfort for your cat.

Once the condition has been diagnosed by your vet, your poorly cat will be put on a course of antibiotics which will ward off any secondary bacterial infections. Some vets like to give cats with the condition something to boost their immune systems too. They will advise on how to feed a cat with an upper respiratory infection because this can prove to be hard to do. Your cat will have lost their appetite and may have refused to eat all together.

Vets often recommend warming the food slightly as this will enhance the smell of it. The real problem with cats suffering from the condition is they tend to dehydrate which can prove very dangerous, so any food given to a cat should be moist and water should be given to the cat through an eye dropper to make sure they are getting fluids. However, your vet may advise keeping a very poorly cat in the surgery to make sure they are getting the all important fluids via a drip.


Some cats are more prone to contracting the virus than others, this is especially true of cats that live in a crowded and unsanitary environment. Cats that roam free are also more susceptible to contracting the virus that leads to an upper respiratory infection, as are very young kittens kept around other adult cats that have not been vaccinated. Owners should always make sure their furry little friends are vaccinated against the virus and to make sure their cats get their boosters on time every year.



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