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.   

See more articles by Arnold Plotnick, DVM>>

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Reader Comments

Ashley    Saskatoon, SK

2/28/2014 1:20:46 PM

My 6 month old kitten has URI and i am just wondering if I treat it and she is better can she go and be around other cats then?

patty    rochester, NY

2/6/2014 1:50:12 PM

i had the same problem 1 yr ago had 12 cats. 1 i had adopted from shelter & gave all my other cats uri. i took the sickest to vet & got meds for her the rest i found a web site called native remedies i ordered a prod called fcv protect. an all natural prod for uri. then i ordered felisyl. a l=lysine powder u put in their food everyday for immune protection. it took about a week but it worked. @ they were really sick. give them the fcv every few hrs. probably need 2 bottles. it is alot cheaper than a vet. i know because i am on a fixed budget

Christine    Marysville, OH

12/6/2013 1:49:50 PM

I like you have many stray cats that people just abandon and I too get them all fixed out of my own pocket and when 1 gets sick they all get sick and running them all to the vet is just to much but the alternative of leaving them to fend for themselves outside is not something my conscious will allow. this site has been very helpful and I have used oit to treat all my pets for minimal cost. Hope this helps. feel free to contact me with any questions

Archangel    Saint Petersburg, FL

11/27/2013 12:07:20 AM

Does anyone believe in holistic treatments? Seriously wtf is wrong with Everyone? My friend was dying of cancer, she started eating right and it WENT AWAY!!!!! Is everyone a sucker even in the animal health industry? I rescued some cats, vets want to charge me 50 bux a kitten for something I know already, I can't take em to a shelter to grow up in a cage and get murdered when no one wants them. Any Solutions? I honestly can't believe the things I'm reading... Antibodies don't cure viruses... Yeah this animal planet sux!!!!!

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