Cats may sneeze because there’s a tickle in their nose, dust or allergens in the area, or a particularly potent smell in the room. However, if your cat frequently sneezes, they could have an upper respiratory infection (URI).
Like the common cold in humans, URIs affect your kitty’s sinuses, leaving them feeling stuffy and needing rest. This article will guide you through the causes, symptoms, and potential treatment of an upper respiratory infection.
How Can Your Cat Contract an Upper Respiratory Infection?
A viral infection is the most common cause (80%-90% of all cases) of URIs in cats. Different viruses can cause a URI, but the most common ones are feline herpesvirus 1, also known as feline rhinotracheitis or FVR, and feline calicivirus, also known as FCV.
These viruses are carried in a cat’s saliva, tears, and nasal secretions. When a cat sneezes or directly touches another cat, they can pass the infection on. The virus can also be spread on shared surfaces, like food and water bowls, or by people who have the virus on their hands when they touch another cat.
Because of this, URIs show up frequently in shelters and other areas where cats are in close contact. Cat parents with multi-cat households may also be more likely to experience URIs.
While it’s rare, some upper respiratory infections can be caused by bacteria, such as Chlamydia and Bordetella, or fungal infections.
Symptoms of URIs in Cats
Upper respiratory infections primarily affect your cat’s nose, throat, and sinuses. Sneezing is, of course, one of the most common symptoms in cats with a URI, but there are a variety of other symptoms that can appear, depending on the cause and location of your cat’s infection.
Some of the most common signs of an upper respiratory infection include:
- Runny nose
- Loss of appetite
- Clear or colored nasal and eye discharge
- Squinting or rubbing eyes
- Gagging or drooling
How to Prevent Your Cat from Getting a URI
Like the cold and flu in humans, washing your hands is one of the best ways you can help prevent the spread of viruses from one cat to another. Wash your hands thoroughly between handling each cat.
Cats with limited access to outside also lower their risk of being exposed to other infected animals, so keep your cat indoors and isolate them from your other pets if you suspect that your cat has been infected.
It’s also important to know your cat’s risk factors, as some cats are at greater risk of respiratory infections. These factors can put your kitty at a higher risk:
- If your cat is a senior or a kitten
- If your cat is not up to date on their current vaccines
- If your cat has feline leukemia, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), or is taking immune system suppressing medications
- If your cat is a Persian or another flat-faced breed
- If your cat is under stress
Speaking with a veterinarian is the best thing you can do for your cat. A vet can help you understand your cat’s health and catch any problems early on with routine checkups.
How Can You Treat Your Cat’s Upper Respiratory Infection?
The first step to treating your cat’s URI is to diagnose them properly.
For most cats, the diagnosis is simple, and your vet will just need to know their medical history and current symptoms. Sometimes, they may need to take a swab of your cat’s mouth or eye discharge to see which virus or bacteria is causing the infection.
Depending on your cat’s symptoms, your vet may also suggest blood tests, chest x-rays, or an electrolyte test.
Once your cat has been diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection, your vet will recommend the best treatment option based on your cat’s current condition.
Treatment Options for Your Cat
For most cats, their URI will resolve itself after 7-10 days, and you’ll only need to manage their symptoms during that time.
You’ll need to isolate your infected cat if you have other pets in the home and make sure they have somewhere quiet and comfortable to rest. Provide them with access to plenty of fresh, clean water to make sure they stay hydrated.
If your cat is congested, a humidifier or steam treatment can help loosen any blockage and open your cat up, so they’ll feel more comfortable. You may also need to wipe away nasal or eye discharge with a warm, moist towel.
With human colds, your sense of taste and smell can be affected. This can damper your appetite, and the same is true for a cat with a URI. If your cat loses interest in their food, you can try switching to canned food with a stronger odor to entice them. You can also try warming up your cat food to strengthen the smell.
If your vet finds that your cat is dehydrated during the diagnostic tests, or if the URI develops into pneumonia, the vet will recommend that your cat be hospitalized so they can provide IV fluid therapy.
Your vet may also prescribe an antibiotic if they suspect a bacterial infection caused your cat’s URI.
Should You Be Worried About Your Cat’s Upper Respiratory Infection?
Upper respiratory infections are common in cats, and most will experience a mild case that will clear up on its own in 1-2 weeks. With enough rest and time, your kitty will be back to new in no time.
It’s essential to monitor your cat’s symptoms, however. Contact your veterinarian immediately if your cat shows any of the following signs:
- Not eating for more than 24 hours
- Difficulty breathing or breathing with their mouth open
- Depressed or unresponsive
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- No improvement in symptoms after a week of home care
For upper respiratory infections and any illness in your cat, treatment is always easier the sooner you check in with your vet and diagnose the issue.
If you think your cat may be showing signs of a URI, our licensed veterinarians can help answer questions and provide the next best steps. Book an appointment today to get expert advice in the comfort of your own home.