If you’ve ever had a kitty with the sniffles, you’re certainly not alone. Contagious respiratory infections are the most common cause of illness in cats in shelters, according to Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program (MSMP) at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine. And, since many people are adopting cats and kittens from shelters or other facilities where cats are housed in close quarters, respiratory conditions are a common concern among new cat owners. A number of factors are at play, including the highly contagious nature of many of the pathogens that cause the disease, poor ventilation, stress, and poor individual immune response, usually in kittens. Here are six other facts regarding respiratory infections in cats, including how to manage the disease in your own feline friend.

#1: Many viruses and bacteria can cause symptoms in cats

Like the common cold in people, feline upper respiratory infections (URIs) are often caused by multiple pathogens. Some typical microbes include feline herpesvirus (FHV), calicivirus (FCV), Bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria (Bordetella), Chlamydophila felis bacteria (Chlamydia), and Mycoplasma felis bacteria (Mycoplasma), with FHV and FCV causing approximately 80% to 90% of feline URIs, according to MSMP. While one cat may be infected with a single virus, others may be the unfortunate recipients of multiple pathogens, and they typically are associated with higher morbidity. 

#2: Respiratory infection signs in cats can vary

Depending on the infection severity and their immune response, your cat may show mild or severe clinical signs—and some will show no signs at all. Common concerns among pet owners include their cat’s sneezing, nasal or ocular discharge, swollen eyes or squinting, oral ulcers, or audible congestion. Sick cats are also often less willing to eat, drink, or play. 

#3: Most feline respiratory infections are mild, but can progressively worsen

The majority of sick kitties will clear a respiratory infection in 7 to 21 days, but some infections may last three months without proper treatment. While many cats will mount an appropriate immune response and eliminate the infection on their own, others need veterinary attention for medications, and still others require hospitalization for intensive treatment. Therefore, consulting your South Shores Pet Clinic veterinarian if your cat is sick is essential, to prevent a more serious infection.

#4: Timely vaccinations are essential in preventing feline respiratory diseases

Cat owners can do their part to decrease the spread and severity of infectious diseases by keeping up with their pet’s vaccinations. Kittens should receive their first combination vaccine for feline herpesvirus, calicivirus, and other important diseases between 6 and 8 weeks of age, and then booster vaccinations every three to four weeks until they are 16 weeks old. However, while up-to-date vaccines will help minimize the disease severity, they cannot completely prevent infection. Other preventive measures, including isolating your cat from other, healthy cats until clinical signs resolve, and disinfecting contaminated areas before exposing other pets, are also necessary if you have a sick kitty. 

#5: Certain respiratory infections can wax and wane throughout a cat’s life

Unfortunately, some cats with certain viruses can become chronic carriers. This means that the affected cat will carry the virus—either actively or latently—in their body for their entire life. Although this isn’t a death sentence, signs can flare up at certain times, especially after surgery, when the cat is ill with another condition, or during another stressful or immune-compromising event. Two respiratory viruses, FHV and FCV, can cause this carrier state.

#6: Home remedies can help your cat feel better

While you should always consult your South Shores Pet Clinic veterinary team if you have a sick pet, some at-home treatments can help congested kitties feel better. Start by bringing your pet into the bathroom when you take a hot shower—inhaling the steam may help break up any mucus in their nose or throat, and promote better breathing. Saline nasal sprays and humidifiers may be beneficial for this, as well. Since cats with respiratory diseases may not be able to smell, they naturally won’t want to eat, but warm, aromatic foods, such as gently warmed, canned cat foods or meat-based baby foods, may entice their appetite. 

Feline respiratory infectious diseases, while common, are never pleasant—for cats or their owners. Fortunately, most cases can be cleared with minimal intervention and some basic preventive measures. Contact South Shores Pet Clinic if your cat has the sniffles, or for more information about these common conditions.