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What is Upper Respiratory Infection?

These infections are also referred to as Feline Infectious Respiratory Disease, or Feline Upper Respiratory Disease Complex (URD) in the veterinary community. The infections vary in severity and have the potential to become life threatening.

Upper respiratory infections are extremely common ailments among cats. Most often the presence of an upper respiratory infection is seen by ocular, nasal, throat and lung irritation and discharge. These infections are spread from contact with other infected cats, and are especially rampant in areas where large groups of cats interact with each other. Kittens, unvaccinated cats, elderly cats and cats with immune deficiencies are the most susceptible to upper respiratory infections.

Upper Respiratory Infection Average Cost

From 592 quotes ranging from $200 - $1,000

Average Cost

$500

Symptoms of Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats

While there are different forms of upper respiratory infections, they share similar symptoms. They are as follows:

  • Nasal discharge (can be containing pus or be clear)
  • Ocular discharge
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Conjunctivitis (inflamed eyelids)
  • Fever
  • Depression
  • Discomfort
  • Lethargy
  • Blepharospasms (squinting)

Your cat may exhibit many or few of these symptoms. Cases change in severity from cat to cat.

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Causes of Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats

Upper respiratory infections are mainly caused by viral infections, however, in rare cases bacterial infections may be responsible. 

Feline Herpesvirus (FHV) 

A more severe form of virus that remains in the cat’s body for the rest of its life. Eye infections are commonly seen with this virus, along with coughing, sneezing, loss of appetite, pharyngitis (sore throat) and inflamed trachea. The virus will manifest itself whenever the cat experiences a time of stress thereafter in its life, with the cat being potentially contagious forever.

Feline Calicivirus (FCV) 

Less severe symptoms are experienced with this virus although more mouth ulceration may be present. There is also an increased risk of developing pneumonia with this virus. The cat may become a carrier once recovered, and could then be contagious whenever shedding the virus.

Bordetella Bronchiseptica 

A bacterial infection that may cause upper respiratory problems in cats. Generally associated with fever, sneezing, swollen lymph nodes and lung complications.

Chlamydophila Felis 

A bacterial infection often associated with eye infections and mild sneezing.

Mycoplasma 

A bacterial infection with symptoms of ocular discharge and eye swelling. 

Feline Reovirus 

A viral infection of the intestines that can sometimes mimic symptoms of a respiratory infection.

Pasteurella 

A bacterial infection that is often transmitted via animal bites. 

All of the aforementioned infections become rampant in situations where many cats are in contact with each other. Because of this, animal shelters, feral cat colonies, and any other large group of cats are at the highest risk of housing viral or bacterial infection epidemics. These upper respiratory infections can be spread from cats hissing, spitting, grooming or even sleeping near each other. Sharing food dishes or litter boxes can also spread infection.

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Diagnosis of Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats

Your vet will likely examine the cat and take note of all specific symptoms your cat is experiencing to rule out other possibilities. The vet will match your cat's symptoms to characteristic clinical signs associated with each type of upper respiratory infection to diagnose the animal. 

At this point, if your vet is still unsure of the type of infection at hand, or if the cat is responding very poorly to the infection, a PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test will be administered. A swab from the mouth, eye or throat is collected and then sent to a lab for the test to be run. 

Further tests may be run if FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) or FeLV (Feline Leukemia Virus) is suspected. If pneumonia has developed, a transtracheal wash may be done to collect lung samples. If the condition has become chronic, further tests may be needed including blood tests, chest and skull X-rays, and culture tests of abnormal discharge.

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Treatment of Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats

There is no cure for viral infections, so treatment is symptomatic. Your vet will combine some or all of these methods depending on the symptoms your cat is experiencing, and the severity of the infection. 

Antibiotics 

If your cat has developed any secondary infections due to the virus, antibiotics will be prescribed to stop the infections from progressing. 

Steam Inhalation 

To restore some function to the nose, and to entice eating through aromas, a cat may be subjected to steam to loosen or liquify nasal discharge.

Injectable Interferons 

If the virus is caught early on, injecting these proteins may help fight the infection before it fully develops in your cat.

Topical Antiviral Agents 

These agents are applied locally as an ointment or cream to treat the infection. Often, trifluridine, idoxuridine or cidofovir will be prescribed.

Ophthalmic Ointment 

This ointment is used to treat eye infections and irritants affecting the cat.   

Appetite Stimulants

 

If the cat still refuses to eat after wet food or aromatic food in oil have been given, an appetite stimulant will be given to help prevent the cat from developing anorexia.

Feeding Tube

If weight loss becomes too severe and the cat is not responding to food, a feeding tube may be administered to ensure the cat is receiving nutrients and fluids. 

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Recovery of Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats

A virus will usually run its course in 1-4 weeks. If it persists longer, another vet appointment may be necessary. To prevent the infection from spreading to other cats, all items the cat has been in contact with should be sanitized. Bleach, accelerated hydrogen peroxide, or trifectant (potassium peroxymonosulfate) are excellent agents for killing the viral or bacterial remains. Fresh air should be ventilated into the area to remove any infected aerosol content. Keep the cat quarantined for some weeks after symptoms have disappeared, and vaccinate any other cats in the home in the meantime. 

Reduce any possible stress your cat may experience. Especially with FHV, cats are prone to flare ups whenever experiencing stress. Diet change may be needed in cases of symptom recurrence, along with additional veterinary oversight to ensure FIV or FeLV have not developed.

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Upper Respiratory Infection Average Cost

From 592 quotes ranging from $200 - $1,000

Average Cost

$500

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Upper Respiratory Infection Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Sadie

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Short hair domestic

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15 Years

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Runny Eye, Nasal Congestion

I have an indoor only cat and she keeps getting upper respiratory infections. Why does this keep happening and how can she be treated to get rid of it? She sounds so stopped up and wheezing, sounds like she can't breathe. Dr gave Depo inj and antiobiotic pills yesterday but she still sounds terrible.

Feb. 10, 2018

Sadie's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your email. As cats get older, they can be more challenged in fighting off regular infections, and common viral disease can cause complications. She may also have a polyp or other nasal growth that may be complicating her situation. She may benefit from a supplement such as Lysine to help her fight any viral disease that might be going on, but if she isnt improving, it would be best to have her rechecked by your veteirnarian to see why she isn't responding to therapy. I hope that she is okay.

Feb. 11, 2018

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Molly

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Short hair tabby

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8 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Weight Loss
Vomiting
Sneezing

My cat Molly has been sneezing and been lethargic a lot recently she had clear mucus on her nose but the last two days it's been a brownish color. She has been eating and drinking but not a lot. I'm very worried about her because she's my best friend. She seems to have lost a bit of weight and has some stinky breath recently as well.

Jan. 16, 2018

Molly's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your email. Without examining Molly, I can't say for sure what might be going on with her, but possible things that might be going on with her include dental disease, upper respiratory infection, or systemic disease. it would be best to have her examined by your veterinarian, as they will be able to evaluate her, figure our what is going on, and get her started on some treatment. I hope that everything goes well for her!

Jan. 16, 2018

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Oscar

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Siamese

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5 Months

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Cough
Stuffed Nose
Sneeze

Hey! Three months ago I adopted a new kitty, he and his sister were abandoned by their mum and were bottle fed until they were hold enough to eat kibble. When he came home he was being treated for parasites in his digestive system, which are gone by now. First two to three days with us were completely normal. Then, after that, he started developing a bit of mucus in his nose which was audible in his breathing. We took him to a vet who said that if the discharge from his nose wasn't green or yellow in color we shouldn't start medication right away, but if that changed we should bring him back to start on antibiotics. Soon enough he started sneezing yellow/greenish mucus so we took him back and the vet started him on Penamox ( amoxicillin and clavulanic acid) and a acetylcistein based med to help with the mucus- he got a bit better but as soon has the treatment stopped he got worse. We took him to another vet who prescribed a different antibiotic ( I don't remember the name). Nothing improved. We took him back to the second vet who collected a bit of mucus and sent it to analysis to see what bacteria were infecting him. The results came back to Bordetella bronchiseptica and Klebsiella oxytoca. After that the vet prescribed two different antibiotics, one for each bacteria. Slight improvement, but still sick after the treatment ended. The vet referred us to a big veterinarian hospital so they could run further tests. There he had an X-ray and they noticed that his lungs were affected (they showed it to me and where it was supposed to be all white, there was a part of the lung that was black or vice versa, I don't really remember). They had him stay the night and ordered an antibiotic that could kill both bacteria at the same time: amikacin. We took him to the hospital everyday for 15 days for him to take his antibiotic shot. By the end of the treatment his symptoms were almost non existent. Then the fifteen days passed and when the antibiotic shots stopped he began to get bad again. We took him back, the vet recommended another 15 days of amikacin shot. Again, improved massively but his symptoms didn't completely go away. The vet recommended us to wait 15 days to see if he would improve on his own. His last antibiotic day was two days ago and his symptoms are already back: stuffed nose and cough from mucus in the throat. We do drops of saline multiple times a day to relieve his nose, and that helps a lot. He is 5 months old now, has spent three months of his life on antibiotics and I'm not sure what to do anymore. (He doesn't have any vaccinations, obviously. He couldn't take them cause he has been sick since he came to us). Do you have any tips, could this be something else (herpes virus or calici)? The doctors always said that a virus was improbable cause he never stopped eating or playing and never had eye discharge or mouth ulcers. Are they wrong? Should I ask them about some other disease that could be causing this?? It really pains me to listen to him having difficulty breathing from his stuffed nose, I'm desperate for him to get better. Oh, I forgot! By the end of his second 15 day amykacin treatment he had another X-ray and it was still similar to the first one, the doctor said it could be scaring but he couldn't be sure.

Jan. 11, 2018

Oscar's Owner

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0 Recommendations

Chronic infections in kittens can be difficult to treat, especially when the infection is disseminated throughout the respiratory tract; if a culture of mucus showed the presence of Bordetella bronchiseptica and Klebsiella oxytoca then a sensitivity test should have been done to look for which antibiotic(s) the infections are sensitive to so that treatment may be directed more effectively. The lungs should be black; if they are white it may show a severe infection, fluid, scarring etc… Other infections are possible, but you would need to speak with your Veterinarian to discuss viral infections and to walk through a physical examination looking for other symptoms. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Jan. 11, 2018

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Cabo Wabo

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Tabby Cat

dog-age-icon

2 Years

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Lethargy
Sneezing

My cat has been sneezing for the past 3 days and has recently become lathergic. He’s still eating fine but he’s definitely lost the pep in his step. No discharge from the eyes or nose. Minor coughing. We’ve been putting him in the bathroom with the hot shower blasting and that seems to help him. We don’t have a go to vet and are wondering if we should take him to the vet, or will this sort itself out.

Jan. 11, 2018

Cabo Wabo's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your email. If he is becoming more lethargic, and sneezing, it may be time to take him to see a veterinarian. There are some upper respiratory infections that can cause fever and make cats feel like they have the flu, and treatment may help him. A veterinarian will be able to examine him, take his vital signs, and prescribe medication that should make him feel better. I hope that he recovers well!

Jan. 11, 2018

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Puzzle

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Feline

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6 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Sneezing
Coughing
Nasal Discharge
Eye Discharge

I had been pet-sitting in a friend's home and only coming in to my home once a day to care for my own cats. When I spent my first night back home my orange tabby had coughing and was opening his mouth to breathe . I promptly took him in to the Vet who said he had mild upper respiratory and gave him an 2 week antibiotic shot. Since looking many places online , it seems that the most common cause is a virus and it doesn't make sense to me the use of the antibiotic. While my cat has improved, his symptoms are still there and , unfortunately, his brother and sister are having symptoms. Should I just treat the symptoms and wait another 2 weeks before having any of them seen again? I don't have alot of money to have every cat seen.

Dec. 25, 2017

Puzzle's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. Upper respiratory viruses are indeed typically caused by a virus, but often very quickly start to have a bacterial component, as the tissues affected are prone to invasion by opportune bacteria. Cats that are showing signs are often given antibiotics as there is usually a bacterial infection secondary to the virus that is causing the signs. I worry that your cat is still opening his mouth to breathe, as that often means they are having significant problems breathing - if your other cats are having the same signs, as inconvenient as it may be, they should probably be seen, and your first cat rechecked, to make sure that they are okay. I would also make sure that there aren't any new chemicals being used in your house, or fumes that are affecting the cats, since all 3 cats are showing signs. I hope that they are all okay.

Dec. 25, 2017

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Upper Respiratory Infection Average Cost

From 592 quotes ranging from $200 - $1,000

Average Cost

$500

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