Feline upper respiratory infections are much like colds in humans. And, just like a human cold, feline URIs can be caused by a number of different viruses or bacteria.
They range in severity from mildly annoying to severe, and they can make your cat feel pretty miserable. There’s no cure for a feline URI, and in most cases, they aren’t life-threatening. However, much like a human cold, they can lead to secondary infections that are more serious.
Just like us, your cat will have to ride it out. Here are some things you should know about feline upper respiratory infections, and what you can do to help.
Feline URIs are Contagious
Cats who venture outdoors can pick up URIs from other cats they encounter. A new cat coming into the home could also give other cats a URI. Indoor cats are less likely to get URIs since there exposure to other cats is limited.
The disease is usually spread by contact, similar to the human cold. A sick cat may sneeze and spread droplets of fluid that contain the germs. Thankfully, the disease can’t live long in the environment, but you can prevent or slow down it’s spread by cleaning the area with a diluted bleach solution to kill bacteria and viruses.
Symptoms of Feline URI
The first thing you will probably notice is watery, red, eyes. The eyelids may be swollen and sore, and the cat may squint like he has something in his eyes.
Within less than 24 hours of the eye symptoms, you will probably begin to notice sneezing and a runny nose. If it’s a mild URI, this may be the worst that it gets.
Unfortunately, the disease can develop into coughing, fever, chest congestion, and a sore throat. At a minimum, you’ve got a miserable cat on your hands.
In a worst-case scenario, your cat may refuse to eat or drink, and he may have trouble breathing. Young kittens and older cats are more likely to develop severe symptoms.
Most vets will prefer that you keep your cat at home, away from other cats, unless the disease becomes life-threatening… such as a refusal to drink and eat, or excessive coughing, or breathing difficulties.
What You Can Do to Help
If your cat’s eyes become inflamed and seem to be causing discomfort, speak to your vet about an eyewash, drops, or an ointment that can help. You can also keep any discharge from building up by gently wiping the area with warm water. If you notice yellow or green discharge, prescription treatment is probably necessary.
Keep the nose area clean with a warm damp cloth, if needed. Steam can be helpful if your cat’s head is stuffy or he’s doing a lot of coughing. Let him hang out in the bathroom for 10 minutes with a hot shower running a few times a day to loosen the mucus so he can sneeze it out.
Never give your cat human medications! They cannot metabolize them as we do, and it can cause liver or kidney failure, and death. If you think your cat’s symptoms are very severe, or they don’t seem to be going away on their own, your vet may recommend antibiotics or other measures to help him recover.