Feline Upper Respiratory Infections

When you bring your cat home and notice that he has a cold, don’t worry. Cats are susceptible to an airborne virus disease similar to the common cold in humans. It’s called Upper Respiratory Infection (URI) and is quite common in animal shelters. Despite our best efforts to prevent its spread by disinfecting cages and vaccinating each cat, some cats may still develop URI. Just like a cold spreads through a classroom, a single sneeze from one cat can expose all the others in a room. The stress of being in a shelter also weakens their immune system, making them more prone to illness.

Recognizing URI in Your Cat

If your cat starts sneezing, has a runny nose, or watery eyes within 7 days of bringing them home, chances are they have URI. It’s highly contagious to other cats, so it’s essential to keep them separate if you have other resident cats. URI symptoms typically last for 7-10 days and may vary in intensity, just like a regular cold. Your cat may experience sneezing, discharge from the eyes and nose, drooling, and difficulty breathing through its mouth. Loss of appetite and decreased drinking are also common symptoms. If the discharge is watery and your cat’s temperature is normal, it’s a “simple” URI virus. However, if there is mucus and fever, it indicates a secondary bacterial infection, and antibiotics will likely be necessary. Seeking veterinary treatment as soon as possible is crucial if you notice any signs of URI in your cat. Kittens with underdeveloped immune systems are particularly vulnerable to contracting URI, but with rest, care, and veterinary intervention, most cats recover from mild URI within one or two weeks.

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URI and Other Pets

URI is contagious to other cats. Although vaccination is not 100% effective, it’s still a good idea to isolate cats showing signs of URI and wash hands after handling sick cats. If you’ve recently adopted a new cat, we recommend isolating them from your other pets for 8-10 days to allow them to settle in and ensure they are not coming down with anything. Fortunately, URI is not contagious to people or animals other than cats.

Caring for a Cat with URI

If your new cat has URI, here are some steps you can take to provide them with comfort and care:

  • Provide your cat with a quiet, warm place to rest.
  • Ensure your cat is eating. Sometimes, due to a stuffy nose, they may struggle to smell their food and lose their appetite. Offering smelly wet food can help increase their appetite.
  • If your cat is congested, you can use a humidifier or take them into the bathroom while running hot water in the shower for a few minutes a couple of times a day.
  • If the veterinarian has prescribed any medication, make sure to follow the full course as directed, even if the symptoms seem to have disappeared.

When to Contact Your Veterinarian

If your cat exhibits any of the following symptoms, it’s essential to contact your veterinarian immediately:

  • Not eating for more than 48 hours (adults) or 24 hours (kittens).
  • Green or yellow discharge from the nose or eyes.
  • Difficulty breathing, especially panting or breathing with an open mouth.
  • Showing signs of depression, lethargy, or unresponsiveness.
  • Vomiting or diarrhea lasting more than 24 hours.
  • Little or no response to prescribed care after several days.
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Remember, your veterinarian is the best person to provide guidance and treatment for your cat’s URI. With proper care and attention, your furry friend will be back to their playful self in no time.

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