Upper Respiratory Infection

Upper respiratory infections in cats are highly contagious to other cats. Here's how to treat your kitty's cold.

Posted: Wed Dec 18 00:00:00 PST 2002

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The severity of an Upper Respiratory Infection (URI) can determine whether veterinary help is neededKitty "cold" is another name for upper respiratory infection. The infection's severity will warrant whether veterinary treatment is needed. Medication is probably not needed if your cat has only clear discharge from its eyes and nose and if it is eating and drinking. If the discharge becomes thick or colored or if the animal stops eating or drinking, medical support is needed.

Most of the microorganisms that cause URIs are airborne, and both indoor and outdoor cats are at risk. URIs can have incubation periods of a few days to a week. URI will respond rapidly to antibiotic treatment if the cause is bacterial. Viral infections do not respond to antibiotics and last 7 to 14 days. Just like humans, cats need to drink plenty of fluids and also rest when they have bad colds.

Getting your cat to eat when it has a URI may also be difficult. If a cat cannot smell, often it will not eat. To encourage eating, you may want to try canned food or tuna or even microwave the food slightly to improve the aroma. You can try baby food, but be sure to use meat types that do not include onion powder.

Veterinary care is needed if you cannot get your cat to eat or drink. Your veterinarian may treat your cat with fluids either intravenously or subcutaneously (under the skin). He or she may also hand-feed or force-feed your cat. Antibiotics may be given.

Congested airways and sinuses can be relieved with vaporizers or humidifiers. Cleaning the discharges that build up around the cat's nostrils will help breathing and smell. Pediatric nasal drops can be used in cats, but consult with your veterinarian about proper use of these or any other over-the-counter treatments.

Many cats with URIs will have conjunctivitis. If the discharge around the eyes is watery and clear, you can clean it with a moist tissue. If the eyes are red, inflamed and squinting, prescription medication is probably needed.

URIs are extremely contagious. In multicat households, it is almost impossible to limit infection to one cat. There are no good preventives against URIs except annual vaccination and decreasing the contact your cat has with other cats.

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Reader Comments

russ    Portsmouth, VA

7/17/2014 6:27:13 AM

With the number of stray animals these days it kind of makes me sick to see people spending money on a cat like it's a human. I am looking for a home remedy for a kitten's cold/URI and everything says "go see a vet." Yeah right, like I'm going to go spend $100+ on a stray kitten when the cats around here are breeding like rabbits and strays are EVERYWHERE! Not going to happen. I prefer doing things myself and I am not afraid to do even perform minor surgeries on my animals and have done so over the years with great success. Come on folks, it's not rocket science. So does anyone know of a home remedy for URI/Severe cold in a kitten or a OTC med that will treat it effectively? If not I will let it run its course. I cannot justify spending money on stray animals when there are so many people suffering these days.

alexis    miami, FL

3/5/2012 1:15:59 PM

this is a great and informative letter thank you

Isabella    La Jolla, CA

5/30/2011 8:52:28 AM

I adopted a little Siamese kitty from an Los Angeles, who a friend delivered to me on Saturday (6/28) together with some medication from the shelter. She, like all cats there, has URI. She sneezes occasionally. Eats, dry and moist food. Drinks. I mix the contents of the med capsul in a bit of food. When finished, I give her more. She has been vomiting. Her one eye is red and a gel is to be administered. Personally I do not trust these shelters and their Vets. Most of them would ather euthanize a little animal than give it loving care. I have another cat .. 14 years old. Keep the two separated. Spray Lysol in the room I keep the little cat, wash my hands each time .. but is this enough to prevent my other, older cat from being infected??? I am truly concerned !

Cat Editor    Irvine, CA

3/29/2011 2:08:11 PM

Cold-like symptoms in cats and dogs are not typically from the same organisms that cause colds and flus in humans, so it's unlikely that a cat or dog could directly catch a cold from a human.

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