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Cat Upper Respiratory Infection

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Cat Upper Respiratory Infection

One of the most frustrating challenges for shelter staff is upper respiratory infection (URI) in cats. Treatments are limited, vaccines don't always work and there are cats that are chronically ill with URI. Some contributory factors are the overcrowding that occurs in many shelters; this along with poor sanitation, overcrowding, poor air flow, parasites and poor nutrition are just a few of the many causes. Stress is also a factor and the unfortunate part of this is that many of these things are unavoidable.

Counter measures to all of these things can help to control the frequency of upper respiratory infection.

Preventative medicine and a good diet can also keep their health level up.

Signs and Symptoms

Any cat that shows signs of URI should be isolated from the other cats in the home or the shelter. All upper respiratory infections have the potential to infect other cats. Signs and symptoms of an upper respiratory infection in cats are:

1. Cat Sneezing

2. Cat Nasal Discharge, or at least an increase thereof, either colored or clear

3. red eyes

4. sores around the mouth or in the mouth

5. Cat Fever

6. Cat Loss of Appetite; Loss of appetite may well be a sign of Cat Stress And Anxiety, but caution must be used.


Along with environmental conditions and the immune status of the animal, there are several different potential causes for upper respiratory infections in cats. The majority of the URI's are caused by either of the two specific viruses mentioned.

1. Cat Calicivirus - can be very severe.

2. Feline Herpesvirus - believed to be the most common organism.

3. Mycoplasma spp.

4. Bordatella bronchiseptica

5. Chalamydophila felis

Diagnosing URI in Cats

Often the cause is not identified in a single cat in a shelter situation. There are other symptoms that can lead to a fairly good guess. With FHV-1, Feline herpesvirus you will see some redness in the eyes. With FCV, feline calcivirus, there is more likely to have oral sores present. Whilst Mycoplasma and Chlamydophila will also have reddened eyes.

Viral studies can be performed. Cultures can be obtained from the nose, mouth or the lungs to identify the organism and prescribe appropriate treatment. This should definitely be considered if there is an outbreak among the cat population. It would also help to identify the carriers. If the cat has not responded to normal treatment protocol, cultures are in order.


Avoid crowding if at all possible. This will relieve stress which is a leading contributor to URI's and other possible diseases. Risk is increased as population increases. It is unfortunate that most shelters do have an overcrowding environment: an excessive number of strays and an attempt to reduce the instance of euthanasia. Although valiant reasons, they can often lead to more difficulties than solutions in a shelter environment. Cat foster homes are another potential breeding place for disease.

Any cat that shows signs of the slightest respiratory infection should be isolated from the rest of the cat population. By not decreasing population, foster homes and shelters may actually contribute to increased death by disease of its residents. These restrictions should also flow over to boarding kennels and veterinarian offices.

The most effective way to control URI is to limit the amount of time a cat stays in a shelter or to allow socialization with other cats in a healthy environment.

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