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Feline Upper Respiratory Tract Infections (URTI)

By: Dr. Dawn Ruben

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Due to the contagious nature of this illness, many cats are not hospitalized unless significant complications, such as pneumonia, occur. While your cat is at home, you will need to provide the following care:

  • Keep the nose and eyes clear of discharge. Gently wipe any discharge with a warm, damp towel.

  • Home nebulization. Airway congestion can be helped in some cat by placing the cat in a steamy bathroom for 5 to 10 minutes a few times a day. Make sure he is in a clean dry area.

  • Administer all medications as your veterinarian prescribes, even if your cat seems to be feeling better.

  • Monitor your cat's appetite and provide baby food, canned cat food or warmed food to increase the smells to entice the cat to eat. If your cat is not eating, consult your veterinarian. Some cats will need temporary feeding tubes until the congestion clears.

  • Keep your cat indoors and away from other cats. Remember that feline upper respiratory infection is highly contagious. Treating one ill cat is time consuming and difficult enough; you don't need to add additional ill cats to your family. Unfortunately, despite all your efforts, other cats in the household may develop the disease.

    The best way to prevent upper respiratory infections is to follow the vaccination procedures recommended by your veterinarian. Vaccination can significantly reduce the potential for infection in cats that have not previous been exposed to the virus. Unfortunately, vaccination does nothing to eliminate the carrier status of previously infected cats and it does not prevent viral shedding.

    Vaccines are administered by two methods: intranasal and injectable.

  • Intranasal vaccination has a more rapid onset of protection than the injectable but the cat may develop sneezing and nasal discharge for a few days after administration.

  • Injectable vaccination has fewer side effects but a slower onset of protection. Also, injectable vaccines carry the potential for injection site sarcomas.

    Keep your cat, and yourself, away from other sneezing, ill cats.

    Prognosis

    The prognosis is very good in most cats. The prognosis is worst in cats that are very young and those with virulent strains of the calicivirus.

    Most cats that recover from upper respiratory disease become "carriers." Your cat may show no signs of the disease, but may shed the virus in saliva, tears and nasal secretions, and become a source of infection to other cats. Recurrence is also possible, especially in times of stress, even without exposure to an ill cat. Introducing a new cat to your home can result in an upper respiratory outbreak. Keep in mind, even cats that appear healthy when adopted may be carriers.


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