Upper Respiratory Infections in Cats

Feb 20, 2024   ComfortAtHomePetServices   Health & Wellness

Feeling under the weather lately? Our pets can get sick during cold and flu season as well. Cats are particularly susceptible to respiratory infections. These are very common in cats and kittens and can vary in severity up to and including the possibility of developing pneumonia. Thankfully, with early treatment and diagnosis, these infections are easily treatable.

Viruses are the most common causes of upper respiratory infections (URIs) in cats. Feline calicivirus and feline herpesvirus account for 80 to 90 percent of all contagious upper respiratory problems and are prevalent in shelters and multi-cat households. These viruses can be transmitted from cat to cat through sneezing, coughing, or while grooming or sharing food and water bowls. Once infected, cats can become carriers for life, and though they may not show clinical signs, they can still transmit the viruses to others. Cats often develop bacterial infections secondary to these common viral infections.

Viruses aren't the only way for cats to develop upper respiratory infections. Indoor allergens like dust, dander and indoor chemicals can also affect a pet's respiratory health. In a more difficult situation, cats can even develop respiratory infections from stress and the stressor must be removed as it can also develop into pneumonia if left untreated.

Symptoms differ depending on the cause and location of the infection, but some common clinical signs of upper respiratory problems in cats include:

·         Sneezing

·         Discharge from the eyes and/or nose

·         Congestion

·         Runny nose

·         Cough

·         Clear to colored nasal discharge

·         Gagging

·         Drooling

·         Fever

·         Loss of or decreased appetite

·         Nasal and oral ulcers

·         Squinting, rubbing or pawing at eyes

·         Vomiting


It's important to bring your cat to a veterinarian if you think your cat may be suffering from an upper respiratory infection. Your veterinarian may prescribe medications and nutritional support to help your cat recover. Untreated upper respiratory infections can easily become pneumonia or lead to breathing difficulties, so seeking treatment as soon as possible is recommended. 

According to the Pets WebMD article Upper Respiratory Infections in Cats, "there are ways to reduce the risk of your cat becoming exposed, such as - 

  • Keep your cat indoors to minimize the risk of exposure to infected animals.
  • Properly isolate infected cats to protect other pets living in the same environment.
  • Keep your cat up to date on vaccines as recommended by your vet. Vaccines for upper respiratory disease in cats may not actually prevent infection, but they help lessen the severity of the disease in some cases.  Remember, only vaccinate healthy pets! Do not vaccinate a pet who is already showing symptoms of upper respiratory issues!
  • Regular veterinary exams and preventive care can help catch and treat problems early. A cat's best defense against upper respiratory infection is a healthy immune system.
  • Practice good hygiene and wash your hands thoroughly when handling multiple cats."

To reduce the risk of aggravating a respiratory infection, switch to dust free cat litter as the dust being kicked up can get into their lungs. Some cats are very finicky about their litter, so if you do change, make sure to change the litter gradually. If your cat does start to balk at the litter change, you may have to go back to basics. Our article How to Litter Train a Cat has many helpful tips you may find useful when needing to switch litters.

Steam can also help loosen the mucus of a respiratory infection. If the cat is comfortable with it, attempt putting them in a bathroom with a running shower. Don't put the cat in the shower, simply allow them to sit in the bathroom to benefit from the steam.

Lysine is an essential amino acid that goes by various different names, including L-lysine Hydrochloride. It is an amino acid that serves as a building block for protein, which plays a key role in carrying out many different bodily functions. Lysine helps pets produce antibodies and enzymes that support the immune system. It is also helpful for calcium absorption, which supports strong bones, and it helps promote healthy skin.

It is important to note that a cat's body does not make Lysine on its own. Because Lysine is essential for their health, cats should receive outside sources of this amino acid through food and supplements. Supplementing your cat's diet with Lysine doesn't have to be difficult. It is available in pill, liquid, gel and powder form.

There are many supplements that can help boost a cat's immune system, including NHV, a vet-approved supplement blend of medicinal mushrooms (turkey tails, cordyceps, reishi, shiitake, agaricus) that can be used to boost your cat's immune system and is beneficial to cardiovascular health. Another blend of supplemental mushroom blends is Mushroom Optimizer.

Upper respiratory infections can be scary, and rightfully so if left untreated, but with proper veterinary care, nutrition and medication, the symptoms of these worrisome infections can be managed, and the cat can return back to their happy and healthy self. 

Certified Professional Pet Sitter
PetTech CPR & First Aid Certified
PPG Badge
Pet Sitters International
National Association of Professional Pet Sitters
Angieslist 2015 Super Servica Award
Angieslist 2016 Super Service Award
Shock Free
Pet First Aid/CPR Certified
Pittsburgh's Professional Pet Sitters Network
Bite Prevention Educator
Doggone Safe
2020 Nextdoor
Fear Free Logo
National Association of Professional Pet Sitters Certification