Respiratory infections are common and highly contagious feline diseases, with upper respiratory infections (URIs) being the most common. While URIs are generally self-limiting, they can progress to serious illness, so keep an eye out for signs that your cat is ill. To learn how to identify, manage, and prevent your cat from developing a respiratory infection, read our Town & Country Animal Hospital PC team’s guide to this common feline virus.

What causes respiratory infections in cats?

Feline respiratory infections have several causes, although viruses trigger most infections. A respiratory infection can be caused by:

  • Viruses — One of two viruses, feline calicivirus (FCV) and feline herpesvirus type 1 (i.e., feline viral rhinotracheitis [FVR]) cause about 90% of all feline URIs. 
  • Bacteria — Cats living in close quarters, such as animal shelters or hoarding situations, commonly exchange the Bordetella bronchiseptica and Chlamydia felis bacteria, which cause respiratory infections.
  • Fungi and protozoa — Although much less common than viruses and bacteria, fungal and protozoal pathogens can also cause feline respiratory infections. Cats can become infected by inhaling fungal spores that spread from the nasal cavity to the lungs, skin, or central nervous system. If your cat contracts a protozoal infection, such as Toxoplasma gondii, they may transmit the parasite to you.

What signs will my cat exhibit if they develop a respiratory infection?

Many feline respiratory infection signs are the same, regardless of the causative pathogen. If your cat has a respiratory infection, they may exhibit any of the following signs:

  • Sneezing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Watery eyes
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Inappetence
  • Oral ulcers

What treatment options are available for cats with respiratory infections?

In general, our Town & Country Animal Hospital PC team does not need to determine a cat’s underlying respiratory infection cause to initiate treatment. However, if your cat does not improve with supportive care, we may perform diagnostic testing to determine the exact pathogen causing the infection. Most cats recover within a reasonable amount of time and do well with the following therapies:

  • Eye ointment — Eye medications to help treat mucoid discharge can be beneficial.
  • Broad-spectrum antimicrobials — Although viruses cause most URIs, we may prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial infections from setting in, particularly in kittens.
  • Fluid therapy — If your cat does not feel well, they can quickly become dehydrated, so we may provide them with fluid therapy under the skin or give them intravenous (IV) fluids, which is often necessary.
  • Nutritional support — Cats who cannot smell their food generally have little appetite. In addition, if a cat develops oral ulcers, which is common with respiratory infections, they are even less likely to eat on their own. Our team may prescribe appetite stimulants. Sometimes, we must give an ill cat a feeding tube until they have recovered enough to eat.

How can I support my cat at home when they have a respiratory infection?

Supportive nursing care is the most recommended therapy for cats suffering from respiratory infections, especially as viruses cause most infections. To help ease your cat’s illness signs and support their recovery, try the following remedies:

  • Increase humidity — A humid environment loosens up thick mucus and makes nasal discharge easier to clean. Sit with your cat in a steamy bathroom for 5 to 10 minutes, and run a humidifier in the room where they spend most of their time.
  • Clean nasal and ocular discharge — Wipe away nasal and ocular discharge as frequently as you can before the substance crusts over. Once discharge hardens, your cat becomes increasingly uncomfortable.
  • Pique your cat’s appetite — Stimulate your cat’s taste buds by gently heating canned food in the microwave to make it more aromatic.
  • Boost water intake — Encourage your cat to drink by adding a tiny bit of low-sodium chicken broth or tuna juice to their water. In addition, moving water often fascinates cats, so give them a pet drinking fountain to entice them to drink more water.

How can I prevent my cat from getting a respiratory infection?

Unfortunately, some cats become lifelong carriers of certain pathogens, such as feline herpesvirus type 1, and they can infect their newborn kittens, continuing the feline respiratory infection cycle. So, while completely preventing your cat from contracting a respiratory infection is virtually impossible, you can greatly reduce their illness’ severity by following these tips:

  • Vaccination — Ensuring your cat is properly vaccinated, especially as a kitten, is the best way to keep them healthy and prevent serious disease.
  • Isolation — When bringing a new cat into your household, or nursing a sick cat, isolate them from the rest of your pack for one to two weeks. Doing so helps limit disease spread, because airborne pathogens stay in one room.
  • Disinfection — When caring for a sick cat, always follow careful hygiene and disinfection practices. Wash your hands thoroughly, remove clothing a sick cat may have contaminated before you pet another cat, and disinfect surfaces and items with a dilute bleach solution.

Protect your feline friend from serious respiratory infections by keeping their vaccinations current. To set up your cat’s appointment, call our Town & Country Animal Hospital PC team.