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Feline Upper Respiratory Tract Infections (URTI)

By: Dr. Dawn Ruben

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Feline upper respiratory infection, also referred to as the feline upper respiratory infection complex, refers to infections in the area of the nose, throat and sinus area, much like the common cold in humans. In cats, these infections are quite common and very contagious.

Infection is common in areas associated with overcrowding and poor sanitation. Cats at increased risk include those in catteries, from rescue shelters and in outdoor feral cat populations. The disease is commonly diagnosed in the spring and summer months when many kittens are born.

Several organisms, both bacteria and virus, can cause the infection. The two primary viruses involved are feline herpesvirus-1 (FHV) and feline calicivirus (FCV). Feline chlamydia, a bacterial infection, can also result in upper respiratory tract infections. Other organisms include Bordetella bronchiseptica, feline reovirus, cowpox virus and mycoplasma.

These organisms are spread from cat to cat through eye, nasal and oral secretions. Infectionc an also be transmitted through contaminated crates, cages, bedding, bowls and clothing. Unfortunately, unsuspecting owners can carry the virus from an ill or viral-shedding cat to their homes. This is a common way that feline upper respiratory infections are transmitted. The FHV virus can live up to a month in the environment. These viruses are easily killed by household cleaners, such as bleach.

Cats that recover from feline upper respiratory infection will periodically shed the virus throughout their lives in times of stress. It is uncommon for the cat to have a reoccurrence of the upper respiratory infection but they are considered a reservoir for the virus.

What To Watch For

  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Nasal discharge
  • Lack of appetite
  • Drooling
  • Breathing problems
  • Open mouth breathing
  • Fever

    Cats susceptible to upper respiratory infections generally develop early signs about two to five days after exposure. Fever and sinus congestion may also occur. The disease typically resolves in 10 to14 days, without complications. Be on the alert for complications such as lack of appetite due to poor smelling ability, pneumonia, eye ulcers or mouth sores. Very young kittens have a higher incidence of pneumonia and some do not survive the infection.

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