Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats

Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats

Just like us humans can be affected by upper respiratory infection, cats are also susceptible. A cat’s upper respiratory system consists of their nose, throat and sinuses. These areas are prone to infection caused by various types of bacteria and viruses. It is important to be able to recognize this condition in your cat so that you can get them treated as quickly as possible. Let’s take a closer look.

Causes of Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats

Viruses are definitely the leading cause of URI in cats. Feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus are the cause of about 85-90% of all upper respiratory conditions. Upper respiratory infection is highly contagious, and is seen a lot in shelters and multi-cat homes. Viruses are often transmitted from one cat to the next by coughing, sneezing, grooming or sharing food dishes. Once a cat has been infected, they carry this virus for the rest of their life, even when they don’t show symptoms. Bacterial infections, such as URI’s are often a secondary infection caused by these viral infections.

In 10-15% of cases, bacteria is the cause. Bordetella and Chlamydia are often seen in shelters and areas that are highly populated in cats, and they are two of the main bacterial infections that cause upper respiratory infection in cats.

Signs and Symptoms of Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats

It is really important to be able to spot the signs and symptoms that come along with an upper respiratory infection. Some common signs include:

  • cough
  • congestion
  • sneezing
  • runny nose
  • nasal discharge
  • gagging
  • fever
  • drooling
  • loss of appetite
  • oral ulcers
  • nasal ulcers
  • squinting
  • depression
  • lethargy

If you notice any of these signs, then it is likely that your cat has contracted an upper respiratory infection. It is important that you have them seen by the vet right away to start proper treatment so that they can make a full recovery.

If you’re not sure about your cat’s condition, this is what Upper Respiratory Infection looks like:

Risk Factors

We are often asked if some cats are more prone to upper respiratory infection than others, and the answer is yes. Age, physical condition, and vaccinations have a lot to do with it. Also, cats that live in homes with more than one cat are at a higher risk. Veterinarians have also found that stress is an important factor. If your cat has had previous URI’s, then they may be at a higher risk for recurrence down the road, especially if they are in a stressful situation. Finally, there are certain breeds that are genetically predisposed to URIs, including Persians and other cats that have flat faces. This is due to the structure of their face.

What to Do if You Think Your Cat Has an Upper Respiratory Infection

If you think that your cat is suffering from an URI, it is important to call you veterinarian right away. They will be able to examine your cat and let you know if they need any medication, or if they have a fever or are dehydrated. Don’t try to self-diagnose your cat, because you never know when it may be something more serious. Since this type of ailment is contagious and infectious, it is important to keep them isolated, and get them the veterinary care that they require to make a speedy recovery.

Treatment Options

If your cat has been diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection, it is important to make sure that you treat it properly. Your vet will be able to recommend the best course of treatment for your cat’s particular situation. Typically, the treatment options will include a mix of medications (including antibiotics), isolation, plenty of rest, supportive fluids and help with nutritional requirements.

If you don’t have your cat’s upper respiratory infection treated as soon as possible, then it could escalate and become more serious. In fact, often times if left untreated it can lead to pneumonia. In rare cases, it can even lead to blindness and chronic breathing issues. Even if you think that it is just a bit of harmless sneezing, it is worth having it looked into to make sure that it isn’t something more serious.


While there is really no sure fire way to completely prevent your cat from getting an upper respiratory infection, there are a few things that you can do to help cut down their chances. Here are a few tips:

  • try to keep your cat inside and away from other animals that may be infected
  • keep infected cats isolated to prevent it from spreading
  • minimize your pet’s stress
  • make sure that your cat is regularly vaccinated
  • make sure that you take your cat to the vet regularly
  • always make sure that your cat has good hygiene

As you can see, upper respiratory infection in cats can be very serious. It is really a good idea for you to be aware of all of the different signs and symptoms so that you can catch it early on. The more aware you are of your cat’s health and wellness, the better off they will be in the long run. Don’t let symptoms go unnoticed by being uninformed. Talk to your vet about any issues that you may have with your cat and stay on top of their annual checkups.

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