Feline Upper Respiratory Infection (URI) is cat flu and is caused by a virus or bacterial infection, which is very similar to the common cold in humans. It infects the oral and nasal passages. The virus is very infectious and prevalent in areas where multiple cats are housed. Kittens are very susceptible as their immune systems are weaker than that of an adult cat. The virus or bacterium is not serious and clears up in about three weeks. However in rare causes the virus or bacterium can develop into pneumonia and then become more serious with the possibility of death. Infected cats that are very sick at the time of the disease may not eat or drink, and will require intravenous injections and or hospital care.
Types of Respiratory Infections and Causes
Feline Calicivirus (FCV) is a flu-like virus that manifests in many strains. Since it mutates rapidly, it is very difficult to keep up with a vaccine to prevent the outbreak of the virus. The virus is highly contagious and is common in cat shelters and multi cat homes.
Feline Herpes virus (FHV-1) caused by the herpes virus, is a double strain virus and is in fact the common flu. It accounts for about 50 percent all cat diseases. It is also an airborne infection and very contagious.
Bordetella bronchiseptica is a bacterial infection of the Bordetella genus. This infection is commonly known as kennel cough in dogs. This infection is what triggers bronchitis. Conjunctivitis and even pneumonia has been reported with this infection as well. Bordetella bronchiseptica is spread by contact usually where there are many cats housed together. Sneezing cats will pass on the infection. The infection does not survive in the environment and can be killed on surfaces in your home by simply disinfecting.
Chlamydophila felis (formerly known as Chlamydia psittici) is a bacterial disease that accounts for up to 30% of all upper respiratory diseases in cats. The bacterium is also associated with conjunctivis. It is spread by direct contact and often new born kittens fall victim to Chamydophila felis. It can be eradicated in the environment by disinfecting. Vaccines are used to suppress the infections but cats have been known to have had some bad reactions. Newer antigens products are the best treatment to date. A clean environment is also very important especially in an animal shelter.
Mycoplasma spp is an intercellular bacterium affecting the soft palate and upper epiglottis. It is also associated with conjunctivitis in the eyes. Not much is known about the causes of this infection or its role in feline upper respiratory disease. It is contagious and spread by direct contact. The airborne infection can be eradicated by disinfecting all surface areas where cats are present. At present there is no vaccine immunization against the disease.
Nasal discharge (clear or colored)
Conjunctivitis (red eye)
Ulcers on the nose, lips, tongue and gums
Depending upon the exact cause of infection
PCR swab - where a swap is taken and placed in a saline solution to test for calicivirus
Virus cultures - for both the herpes virus and calicivirus
Diet vitamins and supplements
Though colds are common to cats just like humans, you should be concerned if your cat is no longer eating, has a fever, has been vomiting, or has the runs continuously for a period of more than 24 hours. Also if you see the cat has difficulty breathing or has ulcers on the nose eyes or mouth you need to take it to the veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and evaluation. These ulcers are extremely painful, and a severe cold can develop quite quickly into pneumonia.