Upper respiratory tract infections (URTI) are also known as feline upper respiratory infection complexes and involve the nose, throat and sinus area. These infections are very common and very contagious. Cats most susceptible to URTI are those in catteries, shelters and other congested areas as well as feral cats.
Several viral and bacterial organisms can cause the URTI. Two of the primary viruses involved are the herpesvirus-1 (FHV) and feline calicivirus (FCV). Feline Chlamydia is a bacterial infection resulting in URTI. Other contributing organisms to the respiratory infections are Bordetella bronchiseptica, feline reovirus, cowpox virus and mycoplasma.
URTI is spread from cat to cat through eye, nasal and oral secretions, as well as any contaminated items touched/used by an infected feline. Anyone can carry the virus from an unsuspecting carrier into your own home without knowing it. The FHV virus can live up to a month in the environment unless cleaned and wiped out with a household cleaner such as bleach.
Symptoms to watch for are sneezing, watery eyes, nasal discharge, drooling, breathing problems, pneumonia, eye ulcers, mouth sores, loss of appetite and fever. Signs of URTI develop about two to five days after exposure to the infection. Common signs at this point are fever and sinus congestion which typically resolves within 10 to 14 days.
Diagnosing the signs of watery eyes, nasal discharge and other typical sinus problems is typically found through a physical examination. Viral and bacterial infections may require some diagnostic tests such as a nasal or throat swab, blood tests and possible chest x-rays in case of pneumonia.
Treatment for an upper respiratory tract infection involves treating the symptoms since there are no drugs to treat a virus. Your veterinarian will aim at boosting your cat’s immune system and overall health in order for it to be able to fight off the virus on its own. In serious URTI cases, hospitalization may be necessary. Otherwise, a typical treatment plan may include antibiotics to attack any bacterial infections, a proper diet, sufficient fluids, nebulizer and medication for the eyes in the case of eye ulcers.
At home care should include keeping the eyes and nose clear of discharge, administer all medications per the instructions of your veterinarian and provide proper diet plus ample fluids to keep your cat well hydrated. During recovery from an URTI, keep your cat away from other cats until completely viral free.
You can help to deter these URTI by following the recommended vaccination regiment put forth for the health of your feline. Be cautious about bringing your cat around other cats unless you are sure they are free from any contagious organisms.