Feline Respiratory Infections - An Overview

Tess Thompson

Even though viral or bacterial agents that cause feline upper respiratory infections are highly contagious, cats are at a very low risk of contracting an infection. There are come conditions, however, that are exceptions to the rule. In most cases, outdoor cats or cats that are housed with other infected cats are at risk of exposure. Persian cats are at a greater risk due to the flat structure of their faces. As the immune system of young kittens is not fully capable of combating infections, they too are more prone to feline respiratory disorders.

Symptoms of feline respiratory disease include:

  • Thick nasal discharge.
  • Watery eyes.
  • Cough.
  • Heavy breathing through the nose.
  • Fever.
  • Husky voice.

The symptoms and an understanding of the agent responsible for the disease largely determine the course that the infection will take. Feline calicivirus (FCV) is responsible for nearly 50% of all respiratory problems in cats. Feline viral rhinotracheitis or feline influenza, a feline upper respiratory infection, is caused by the herpes virus. Together, both the viruses are responsible for nearly 90% of all feline respiratory problems.

Symptoms of FCV infection may be acute or chronic. In many cases, latent symptoms surface when the cat is stressed, especially at the time of adoption. In addition to the above symptoms, some cats may develop ulcerations in the mouth. Feline influenza, on the other hand, may lead to sinusitis and empyema (collection of pus in a body cavity, especially in the lung cavity).

The vast majority of upper respiratory infections in cats are caused by viruses and therefore cannot be treated by antibiotics. However, viral infections may lead to secondary infections, and anti-bacterial medications are often used primarily to treat or prevent them.

After the herpes virus and calicivirus, Chlamydia psittaci, renamed as Chlamydophila felis, is the most common bacterial agent that causes upper respiratory problems in cats. The first choice of treatment is usually tetracycline and its derivatives, as the bacterium is sensitive to it. Tetracycline is usually avoided for young kittens, as it can permanently stain immature teeth.

Vaccination programs have been instrumental in improving the health of cats in many ways. However, they do not provide complete insurance, as many strains of calicivirus are resistant to vaccines. The decision on the frequency of vaccination and the allied booster doses depends on the exposure, disease risk and the type of vaccination.

Even though vaccination cannot guarantee the prevention of feline respiratory problems, they can reduce the severity of the symptoms to a large extent. Ensuring that your cat is not exposed to the virus and feline upper respiratory herbal treatments can go a long way in preventing as well as treating the disease.

Oral and nasal tumors may also show symptoms similar to feline upper respiratory infection, treatment of which requires a different modality altogether.


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