Can I Cure My Cats' Upper Repiratory Infections Myself?

CatChannel veterinary expert Arnold Plotnick, DVM, shares reasons why cat owners should leave medical treatment to cat vets.

By By Arnold Plotnick, DVM

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Q: I have 10 cats: three cats over age 5, two between ages 3 and 5 (adopted cats) and four aged 16 months (an adopted cat litter). All are indoor cats and have been spayed or neutered.
Earlier this week, one of the younger cats had serious coughing like a hairball, but wasn’t expelling or passing anything. I gave my cat two does of hairball medicine and that has stopped. Now, all four young cats have problems. One cat started with the sneezing and now all are sneezing a very wet sneeze, two cats have slightly weepy eyes and cat has a slight runny nose.  The cats’ appetites are still good and the cats still drink water and want cat treats.

With 10 cats, I can’t afford to take them to a vet. A friend had pets with upper-respiratory infections and said its sounds like my cats have the same thing. This friend said a local feed store sells antibiotics with syringes. She said if one of my cats has an upper respiratory infection that they all will get it and, left untreated, it could kill them.

A: It sounds like you have an outbreak of cat upper respiratory infection going through your menagerie. These are usually caused by a virus, either the herpes virus, the calici virus or both. Sneezing is the most common sign, as well as a discharge from the eyes and nose, drooling, congestion and decreased appetite.

Treatment of cat URIs requires supportive care mainly with oral antibiotics. Stubborn cases may require antiviral drugs and medicated eye ointments. The amino acid lysine is often beneficial in helping cats recover from URI symptoms caused by the herpes virus. Your friend is not correct in assuming that ALL of your cats will come down with it. It depends on how virulent the strain of this particular virus, the vaccination status of the cats in the house, and each cat’s individual immune system. Your friend is also incorrect by saying that your cats might die if the infection is untreated. I suppose if one of your cats was severely affected and stopped eating and drinking for a few days, it could theoretically die from the infection, but it would be rare.

Ideally, all of your affected cats should be examined by your veterinarian, but with 10 cats, I suppose that can be difficult, logistically, as well as financially. I would NOT go to a local feed store to get antibiotics. I imagine these antibiotics are meant for food animals, not cats and dogs. Even if the owner of the feed store tries to explain to you how to adjust the dosage to make it appropriate for cats, do NOT do this. The antibiotics might not be suitable for cats, and there is a high risk of overdosing your cats.

I think your best bet is to take the sickest one or two cats to the vet and have your cat vet prescribe medication. Technically, your cats’ veterinarian is not allowed to prescribe medication to a cat that your vet has never seen before, but if the affected cats have been to your vet in the past, and you tell your vet that a URI is spreading through your household, your cat vet may dispense antibiotics for the other affected cats. Certainly, your cat vet can dispense lysine to all of your cats; it is just an amino acid supplement.   

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Reader Comments

mel    battle creek, MI

7/16/2014 10:46:13 AM

You people need to stop judging. OP stated all the cats are spayed/neutered. He does his best to care for them and the cats would be stray and feral and reproducing without him. Possibly even sick and spreading disease to other poor homeless kitties. We have three cats, two of which are rescued strays. Most shelters where I live are FULL, and won't accept more. Kudos to OP for his big caring heart. Hope by now your babies are healthy and happy.

Nancy    Andalusia, AL

5/30/2014 2:44:07 PM

I am really disappointed by some of the comments from people about the number of cats this woman is caring for. We live in a very rural area and people are forever "dumping" their animials. I have 9 cats and I didn't go get any of them. Should I let them starve when they show up crying at my door? We have spayed and neutered them all at our own expense, but vet trips are horribly expensive and the cost of feeding them isn't cheap either. I didn't plan on being a "crazy cat lady" but which one of these animals should I let die. Oh and as for finding good homes, it's almost impossible because there is such a problem of overpopulation. I think the issue here is not with those of us who are rescuing these strays but with the owners who get them and don't spay or neuter their pets. We also have four dogs that were "donated" to us, one of them a totally deaf bulldog. Folks need to stop getting pets they aren't going to keep. Comment about that not about folks who are doing their best help.

Richard    hooksett, NH

5/17/2014 7:01:42 AM

I took my cat to a vet .she said she can see any problems my cat eats drinks.but a night sneezes .not in the daytime.what can i do

Pamela    Leesburg, GA

5/16/2014 7:25:13 AM

In reply to Rob's commennt:
Rob Spfd, MO
5/9/2014 8:42:18 PM

People with a dozen cats are part of the problem! That's what too many. My neighbor is a crazy cat lady. I have one, one cat, one sixteen year old cat I love very much, and the neighbor's latest dumped failed project has given her this. At her age it might not be survivable. Don't take in lots of cats because you feel bad for them, you only harm them in the end. I swear, cat ladies are the worst thing that ever happened to cats.

Perhaps you missed the part in which this "crazy cat lady" stated all of the cats were spayed/neutered. While I can agree that IF someone can't afford vet care that will possibly be necessary over the life of the cats one takes in, I do not believe judgement on your part is necessary, fair or productive. As far as you having one 16 yr-old car that you love, that is wonderful and you no doubt have a very content cat that is extremely fortunate to have a loving permanent home. However, please consider that there are millions of cats that are not as fortunate as your cat. Irresponsible PEOPLE as a whole have created the massive numbers of unwanted, abandoned, unsocialized animals that are everywhere today. Cats being the species that the general population seems to just want to wipe them out. Instead of you, as well as millions of others, passing judgement on those of us who are actually doing something to try and help stabilize the population of cats, why don't you look at it from a different perspective? Did you miss that this woman has SAVED 10 cats' lives by rescuing most of them, spaying/ neutering them and providing a safe place for them to live out the rest of their lives. Instead of judging your "crazy cat lady" neighbor, why don't you ask her if she's thought about the consequences of the "help" she is giving the cats if she doesn't find a low cost program to have every single one of them spayed/neutered? Why don't you get involved in a TNR program and help educate people about the critical importance of spaying/neutering their pets and the necssity, and importance of TNR? After all, it's quite easy to sit on the sidelines and judge others actions when you only see a speck of dust from where you are standing. Are those of us who rescue cats "crazy"? We certainly must be....why else would we do what we do to try and save cats and stop the breeding cycle when we get nothing out of it? The mass majority of people offer a critical analysis of our motives, cats are not known for their "thankful ess", We see far to many cats that are hungry, abandoned, dumped, unsocialized, forgotten, sick, dying and abused . It's heartbreaking, tiring and never-ending. I wear my CCL label proudly, despite the deragatory nature in which it is spoken.

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