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

Kathy    Pittsburgh, PA

8/13/2014 9:24:17 AM

Bravo--People are tired of the endless supply of animals out there. I would LOVE to find good homes but few exist. I've talked up a storm to people, trying to adopt out pets. Even my vets have a hard time finding homes for animals dumped on them. Shelters are tired of taking the overflow. No animals should be offered on the internet unless through a shelter that does spay/neuters on ALL animals adopted out. Yes, there are many shelters that do NOT spay/neuter--disgusting as they are adding to the problem. There should be a hefty fee if you want to breed your "wonderful dog/cat with the most gorgeous eyes, lines, coloring, etc." I've done trap/neuter/release for years. I'm still feeding and spay/neutering cats in these areas. The jackass owners never spay/neuter. All the "MEN" out there who are afraid to have their male cat neutered--so stupid. The only thing our government does is penalize those who try to help. Of course, there is a limit to what we can do--any shelters out there willing to get on television and tell people to spay/neuter? Even the ASPCA doesn't do this.

Shelley    King City, CA

8/5/2014 8:40:57 AM

I have treated cats with uri for years from antibiotics found at the feed store. In the chicken dept. I buy a bag of powdered tetracycline, and put 1/4 tsp. In some canned catfood, maybe a little tuna for extra scent and flavor... about 3 times a day. Always successful. Feed stores also carry antibiotics like amoxicillin, penicillin, etc in the fish dept. And a wonderful antibiotic in a syringe in the section for cows. It is designed for lactating cows with infected teats, but is wonderful for pets wounds. Apply it to the wound, and if they lick it off, then they are getting double the benefits. I belive in saving money, and there are many solutions to be found at your feed store. Good luck!

Caro    Horseheads, NY

8/3/2014 4:37:57 PM

My cat was sick at the point of not recover, here is what I did, I say a pray for him, put holy water in his blow of water, also added a teaspoon on Apple vinegar at the water, the vet give a shot of vitamin B12 and now is better, eating more everyday.

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.

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