Upper Respiratory Infections (URI) in Cats

Is your feline friend suffering from an upper respiratory infection? Feline upper respiratory infections (URI) are a common cause of illness in cats. Two viruses, a herpes virus (feline rhinotracheitis, FHV) and feline calici virus (FCV) are the culprits for nearly 90% of these infections. These two viruses account for a large majority of patients seen, but the disease can also be caused by bacterial organisms Chlamydophila felis (chlamydia psitacci) and Bordetella bronchiseptica.

Signs / Symptoms
Signs of URI are sneezing, nasal discharge, oral or nasal ulcers, runny eyes, coughing, fever, hypersalivation, dehydration, ocular ulcers (corneal ulcers), sniffling, and/or a hoarse voice. If your cat is showing these symptoms please schedule an appointment with your veterinarian for a health examination.
Infections can be acute (sudden), chronic (long-term), or persistent. Some cats that recover from the disease can periodically experience re-occurrence of symptoms. This is typically correlated with times of youth, stress, or immunosuppression.

Cats may become infected by contact with actively infected individuals, carriers or contaminated surfaces. The virus is present in nasal, ocular, and oral secretions and discharges. Cats that are infected with FHV or FCV can be carriers for weeks to years after resolution of clinical signs.

URI is commonly diagnosed based on the clinical symptoms. Specific tests can identify FCV, FHV, Bordetella, and Chlamydophila organisms. Your veterinarian may send cultures from your cat’s mouth, throat or nose to a laboratory for testing.

Similar to the human flu, there is no specific treatment for the viral diseases that cause URI. Therapy is focused on treatment of the symptoms that cats develop, or “supportive treatment”. This includes good nursing care, hand – feedings, maintaining a warm comfortable environment, cleaning eyes and nose. Antibiotics will not help to combat a viral infection but you veterinarian might choose to prescribe an antibiotic to help protect against secondary bacterial infections that may occur. Antiviral eye drops, low doses of interferon-alpha to stimulate the immune system and oral lysine may be indicated in some cases.
It is a great idea to vaccinate your cat in order to protect against URI. Core feline distemper vaccines are frequently combined with herpesvirus, calicivirus, and som etimes Chlamydophila felis to provide protection.
Consult with your veterinarian about your cat’s vaccine schedule and recommendations.

Lacey LaVigna, DVM