Feline Upper Respiratory Infections

Signs of URI
• Sneezing
• Runny nose
• Red/runny eyes
• Fever
• Sores on tongue/lips/nose
• Lack of appetite
• Decreased energy

Your cat may have a cold when you get him home. Cats are subject to an airborne virus disease that is very similar to the common cold experienced by humans. It is called URI (Upper Respiratory Infection), and is a common occurrence in an animal shelter. We do all we can to prevent its spread, including carefully disinfecting our cages and vaccinating each cat. Despite our best efforts, some cats will come down with URI. When multiple cats are confined to one room, a single sneeze from a cat can expose all the others, just like a cold is spread through a classroom. Also, all the cats in the shelter are under stress just by virtue of being here, which lowers their resistance to illness. 

If your cat begins to sneeze or has a runny nose or eyes within 7 days after you get him/her home, chances are that the cat has come down with URI. The virus is quite contagious to other cats, so if you have any resident cats, keep them separate. You can expect symptoms to continue for 7-10 days and they may vary in intensity (just like a cold!). The cat may sneeze, have discharge from eyes and nose, drool and breathe with difficulty through his or her mouth. The cat may lose its appetite and even stop drinking. If the discharge from your cat’s eyes and nose is watery and the cat’s temperature is normal, you are dealing with “simple” URI virus. Mucous and fever are indicators that a secondary bacterial infection is complicating the picture. With these conditions the cat most likely will need antibiotics. It is imperative that you seek veterinary treatment for the cat exhibiting any signs of a URI as soon as possible.  Kittens with underdeveloped immune systems are especially vulnerable to contracting URI's.  With rest, care and veterinary intervention, many cats will recover from mild URI in one or two weeks. 

Can my other pets get URI? 
URI is contagious to other cats. Vaccinating against URI is not 100% effective, so it is a good idea to isolate cats that are showing signs of URI, and wash hands after handling sick cats. We recommend isolating all new arrivals in your household for 8-10 days after adoption to give them a chance to settle in and make sure they are not coming down with anything. URI is not contagious to people or to animals other than cats. 

What should I do if my new cat has a URI? 

  • Provide your cat with a quiet, warm place to rest. 
  • Make sure the cat is eating. Sometimes with a stuffy nose they can’t smell their food very well and may not want to eat. Offer smelly wet food to increase their appetite. 
  • If the cat is congested, use a humidifier or put the cat in the bathroom and run hot water in the shower for a few minutes a couple of times a day. 
  • If any medicine has been prescribed, be sure to give the full course as directed, even if the symptoms seem to have gone away. 

When should I contact my veterinarian? 

If your cat has any of the following symptoms, contact your veterinarian immediately: 

  • Not eating for more than 48 hours (adults).  Kittens - 24 hours. 
  • Green or yellow discharge from the nose or eyes. 
  • Difficulty breathing, especially panting or breathing with an open mouth. 
  • Depressed, lethargic or unresponsive. 
  • Vomiting or diarrhea that lasts more than 24 hours. 
  • Little or no response to prescribed care after several days.

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