Why Does My Kitten Have a Runny Nose?

A vet expert discusses upper respiratory infections in cats and kittens.

By Arnold Plotnick, DVM

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Maine Coon Cat with Outstretched Paw

Q: We purchased an Abyssinian kitten approximately eight weeks ago. We knew he was the runt of the litter at the time, but he had a sweet personality. Unfortunately, Mario had a runny nose and watery eye. The breeder told us that antibiotic eye drops should take care of it, but it did not. Our kitten has been on two separate antibiotics and he still has the runny nose and these terrible sneezing fits in which a large, green string of mucus is left on the floor.

We have had a test completed on the mucus and my vet called with a diagnosis of either cat AIDS or E coli. Please be advised my husband did not keep the sample refrigerated prior to the test as suggested by the vet. When the paperwork came in the mail from the vet it only mentioned E coli as a diagnosis. I am very concerned, as I have two small children that love to play with the kitten and at times they get scratched or bit. 

Do you have any suggestions as to what type of treatment Mario should receive, as he still has the runny nose and watery eye? Our kitten will be 6 months old and weighs 4.4 pounds.  We have an appointment to get him neutered next week.
A: It is not unusual for a purebred kitten that comes from a breeding colony to have an upper respiratory infection. (It would almost be unusual if he didn’t!)  Most of these infections are viral in nature, with the herpes virus being the most likely culprit.  These viral infections often cause a watery discharge from the eyes and/or nose. If a secondary bacterial infection develops, the watery discharge can become thick and mucoid. 

I suspect that your cat has a viral upper respiratory infection with a secondary bacterial infection.  Antibiotics usually help control the bacterial infection, and the cat’s immune system usually defeats the viral infection on its own. Some cats, however, have trouble defeating the viral infection and may require medication for this. Lysine is an amino acid that helps treat herpes virus infections, and is available as a veterinary preparation. Famciclovir is a relatively new antiviral drug that has shown excellent efficacy at treating herpes viral infections. Your vet should consider prescribing these medications to help little Mario.

The second part of your letter is confusing to me.  You say in your letter that your kitten may have FIV ("cat AIDS”) based on a test on the mucus. This has to be incorrect. FIV is diagnosed based on a blood test. Perhaps your vet mentioned FIV as a possibility in cases where a cat is having trouble defeating what should be a simple upper respiratory infection. In any event, all cats should be tested for the feline leukemia virus and the FIV virus before going to their new home. If you haven’t had that done, you should do that promptly. Again, this is a blood test.  Your vet may have cultured the mucus in an attempt to see exactly what is causing the nasal discharge; however, culture of the nasal discharge is rarely helpful because the feline nasal cavity has a wide array of bacteria that are normal flora. E coli is a common organism, and it is very unlikely that this poses any danger to you or your children.

Have your kitten tested for feline leukemia and FIV, and then ask your vet to prescribe lysine and Famciclovir, as well as an antibiotic.  To me, this seems the best course of treatment.

See more reasons why cats sneeze >>

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Reader Comments

ashley    bingham, IL

8/26/2012 7:56:24 AM

Go to your local feed store and purchase duramycin in the poweder form.Put it in your cats water twice a day.Do not worry about over dosing. Antibiotic ointment should be used for the eyes. Showering your kitten twice a day with you will help break up the mucus from the stem.Make sure to dry your kitten of thorougly.Also a heating pad will help your kitten stay warm.Put a towl over it and make sure it doesn't get over heated.If it's not drinking enough give it some carefully through a feeding syringe.You could consider giving it a bit of kitte

ps upper respiratory is very persistant so you gotta be persistant back!

Linda    mulberry, AR

4/3/2011 1:33:57 PM

Hello I am a breeder RitzNRagdolls you are welcome to call me I am very experienced with cattery viruses if you have run your kitten on amoxycillin and clavamox and it didnt work the best thing and it works is Azithromycin let me know how much your kitten weighs and Ill tell you how much I use and how long you will need to have your vet give you a perscription from your drugstore I can tell you how to mix it it works also test the kitten for Feline Leukemia and FIV its a simple blood test if its this return the kitten to the cattery and dont buy there again Get this medicine right away as kittens can die fast when not treated and helped you are welcome to call me 479-997-8562 I know cats very very well Most vets dont understand how to treat a kitten comming out of a cattery they just treat outdoor cat problems for the most part

Fallon    Troy, MI

7/7/2009 11:24:26 PM

I have a kitten, Maui who is approx. 15 weeks old. I also have Onyx who is 1 year and 5 months old/ Onyx had an upper respiratory infection and I believed he passed it on to Maui. I have taken Maui to the vet after he was sneezing consistently all day one day and his eye was red and puffy with a watery discharge. Now, his inner eye lid is almost shut all the way and his eye is still red. He also has the sniffles although he is not sneezing as much, he is still sneezing with what seems to be somewhat of a runny nose (no color). Maui still plays and eats well though. The vet prescribed amoxicillin which i have been giving to him for almost 3 days now and an eye ointment called Neomycin and Polymyxin B Sulfates and Bacitarcin ZInc Opthalmic Ointment USP, but none of it has worked yet. What do i do? This is my first kitten and i am very concerned.

Linda    Mandeville, LA

6/15/2009 11:55:59 PM

Good Article.

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