Our feline friends can catch colds too.
As is the case with humans, the culprits to blame for these nasty colds are bacteria or viruses, sometimes both.
The bacteria and viruses that most commonly cause upper respiratory infections (URIs) in cats are:
- Feline herpesvirus type-1 (FHV-1); also known as feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR)
- Feline calicivirus (FVC)
- Bordetella bronchiseptica (B. bronchiseptica)
- Chlamydophila felis (C. felis)
- Less commonly, Mycoplasma spp. (bacteria) or a feline retrovirus, such as FIV or FeLV, are contributing factors in an upper respiratory infection.
Bacteria and viruses are very contagious and are present in the saliva and discharge produced by the eyes and nose. Healthy cats can get infected when they come into direct contact with a sick cat. Cats with retroviruses are especially vulnerable to the contagions, both through direct contact or indirect contact with contaminated objects.
Symptoms of feline upper respiratory infections
Sniffling, sneezing, clear to pus-like discharge from the eyes and/or nose, coughing and lethargy are common symptoms of an upper respiratory infection in cats. On examination, your veterinarian may also check for oral ulcers, sometimes caused by FVR and FCV. Generally, a fever, poor appetite, and lethargy accompany the more specific symptoms of a URI.
Duration of feline upper respiratory infections
Generally an infection will last for 7–21 days. There is an incubation period, the time period from point of infection to when clinical signs become apparent, of 2–10 days. It is thought that the incubation period is the time of highest contagion.
Diagnosis of feline upper respiratory infections
The clinical signs and symptoms are usually enough to make a diagnosis of feline upper respiratory infection. Diagnostic tests, however, are required to determine the cause of the infection. So your veterinarian may recommend testing.
Treatment of feline upper respiratory infections
Your veterinarian will determine the best treatment course for your cat, which may include specific prescriptions and possible hospitalization, depending on the severity of clinical signs.
How Humans are Affected by a Feline Upper Respiratory Infection
Humans are at low risk for contracting the diseases responsible for causing upper respiratory infections in cats. Most of these infectious agents are species-specific – affecting only the one species – and are not “zoonotic” (spread between species). B. bronchiseptica and conjunctivitis associated with C. felis can be a potential risk to people with lowered immunity. To prevent the chance of infection, wash your hands frequently and be watchful for signs of respiratory illness.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.