The flu affects millions of Americans every year, but did you know that our feline friends can also contract a flu-like illness? Rather than experiencing a defined “flu season,” cats can develop an upper respiratory infection based on environmental factors. You should know the symptoms and causes of feline upper respiratory infection in order to properly assess your cat’s health.
The feline upper respiratory tract consists of the nose, the throat, and the sinus area. The most common symptoms of upper respiratory infections are sneezing, congestion, and conjunctivitis or excessive eye discharge. Some cats may experience behavioral symptoms such as depression and/or loss of appetite. In severe cases, cats may develop a high fever or experience difficulty breathing. Cases of upper respiratory infection typically last for seven to ten days.
The most common cause of feline upper respiratory infections is viral disease. Most cases are caused by infection with feline herpes virus (FHV or FHV-1) and/or feline calicivirus (FCV). These cases account for approximately 90% of all upper respiratory infections diagnosed in cats. In some rare cases, the infection may be caused by either Bordetella bacteria or feline chlamydia.
Because viral diseases cause most upper respiratory infections, cats kept in large groups are most likely to develop them. Rescue centers, breeding catteries (or “kitten mills”), and feral cat colonies experience the most cases of feline upper respiratory infection. Furthermore, unvaccinated cats, kittens, elderly cats, and immunocompromised cats are more likely to develop an infection. Feline upper respiratory infections are not contagious to healthy people or other animals.
When to Contact the Vet
As a precaution, you should take newly-adopted cats for a vet examination less than a week after adoption. Otherwise, most healthy cats recover from upper respiratory infections within one to two weeks. During this time, monitor your cat’s behavior. If possible, isolate them from other cats in the house. You should contact your vet if your cat experiences more severe symptoms, such as refusal to eat for 24 hours, green or yellow eye discharge, or difficulty breathing.
Treatment is largely based on symptoms. Sometimes, vets will prescribe antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections. In extreme cases, your cat will need to be hospitalized. General care is always important; you will need to keep your cat comfortable and warm, occasionally wiping the snot and discharge from their nose and eyes.
Claws N Paws owns and operates a full-service grooming salon in Fountain Valley, CA. Right next door, you can find our cats-only boarding facility. Upon our recent reopening, Claws N Paws has issued various safety precautions in order to observe COVID-19 restrictions. This information can be found on our blog about reopening. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us at 714-962-1005.