Your cat is seriously threatened by three highly contagious respiratory diseases. These diseases are easily transmitted from cat-to-cat through direct contact, through the air by sneezing or coughing, or by contact with you if you’ve been close to infected cats. A cat with a respiratory disease appears to have a serious cold with fever, loss of appetite, depression, and pneumonia. It may even die. The best protection is vaccination. For your cat’s sake, ask your veterinarian about a vaccination program.
Symptoms: sneezing, nasal discharge, runny eyes, cough, oral or nasal ulcers, sniffles, fever, hoarse voice, or any combination thereof
What Cats Are at Risk?
Despite the highly contagious nature of all the feline upper respiratory agents, it is important to realize that most cats are at very small risk for exposure. In other words, in order to get this kind of infection, a cat must be in the same home as an infected cat or share the same human caretaker, toys or food bowls. Typically infected cats come from the shelter , are outdoor cats , or are housed in close contact with lots of other cats ( experiencing crowding stress ). Persian cats are predisposed to upper respiratory infection due to their inherent facial flattening. The average housecat who is not exposed to any rescued kittens, lives with only one or two other cats at most, and never goes outside is unlikely break with infection. Kittens are predisposed due to their immature immune systems.
Course of Infection
To some extent, the combinations of symptoms and course of infection is determined by which of numerous infectious agents is responsible. Ninety percent of feline upper respiratory infections are caused by either feline Herpes or feline calicivirus . Neither of these infections is transmissible to humans or to other animals.
Most feline colds run a course of 7 to 10 days regardless of treatment but it is important to realize that these infections are permanent and that herpesvirus infections are recurring (a property of all types of herpes infections). In kittens, herpes infections are notorious for dragging out. Stresses such as surgery (usually neutering/spaying or declawing), boarding, or introduction of a new feline companion commonly induce a fresh herpes upper respiratory episode.
When to be Concerned
A cold for a cat is usually just a nuisance as a cold usually is for one of us. Sometimes though an upper respiratory infection can be serious. If a cat is sick enough to stop eating or drinking, hospitalization may be needed to support him or her through the brunt of the infection. A cat (usually a kitten) can actually get dehydrated from the fluid lost in nasal discharge. Painful ulcers can form on the eyes, nose, or in the mouth. Sometimes fever is high enough to warrant monitoring. In young kittens, pneumonia may result from what started as an upper respiratory infetion.
If you think your cat or kitten is significantly uncomfortable with a cold you should seek veterinary assistance with an office visit.
How is this Usually Treated?
Since 90% of cases are viral in origin and we have no antibiotics against viruses, it seems odd that most feline upper respiratory infections are treated with anti-bacterial medications. The reason for this is that it is common for these viral infections to become complicated by secondary bacterial invaders. The antibioticsact on these. Further, the next most common infectious agent (after herpes and calici) is Chlamydia psittaci , an organism sensitive to the tetracycline family. For this reason, when antibiotics are selected, tetracyclines and their relatives are frequently chosen. (Since tetracycline use can permanently stain the teeth of immature animals, these medications are generally not chosen for younger pets.) Oral medications, and/or eye ointments are commonly prescribed. For congestion, some human nose drop products can be used for relief. Consult your veterinarian before attempting any sort of home treatment.
For younger kittens that are infected, often the most significant factor in their throwing off infection, is maturation and gaining a more effective immune system with growth.
Occasionally infections can lead to more chronic symptoms such as gingivitis (gum inflammation), conjunctivitis, or nasal congestion.
What are the Vaccination Options?
In selecting a vaccine against upper respiratory infections, there are some choices one can make. First, one must choose between a nasal vaccine and an injectable vaccine .
The injectable vaccines which typically include feline distemper, were developed first and when vaccines for upper respiratory infections were created, they were simply added to the basic distemper injectable vaccine. Since that time science has developed a more localized form of vaccination to better address more localized types of infections.
If one selects the injectable route of vaccination, one must then decide if one wants a four in one or a three in one vaccine. You may vaccinate your cat for distemper, herpesvirus, and calicivirus or you may vaccinate for distemper, herpesvirus, calicivirus, and Chlamydia psittici. Remember that herpes and calicivirus together account for 90% of upper respiratory infections and Chlamydia accounts for less than 10% of upper respiratory infections.
There is some feeling that these vaccines may provide a more complete stimulation to the area of the immune system responsible for defense against the infection in question. Herpes and calicivirus vaccines can be given either nasally or injectably.