Upper Respiratory Tract Infections in Cats

Veterinarian Approved on October 31, 2012 by Dr. Janice Huntingford

Respiratory infections in cats and kittens are very common. The upper respiratory tract in the cat is made up of the nose, throat and sinus area. Viruses are the most common cause of respiratory disease in cats, with Feline Calicivirus and Feline Herpes virus causing 85 to 90% of all respiratory disease in cats. Upper Respiratory Tract ( URT ) infections are common in shelters, catteries and multi-cat households. The viruses are transmitted from cat to cat by sneezing, coughing, grooming or sharing food and water bowls. They can also be transmitted by humans from cat to cat on clothing. Once infected, cats become carriers for life although they may show no signs. With herpes virus, symptoms may return when the cat is stressed.

Although most infections are caused by viruses, secondary bacterial infections are common. Bacteria such as Chlamydia and Bordetella are primary causes of URT infections mostly in feral and shelter animals. They are often associated with overcrowding and stress.

Symptoms of URT infections include:

Runny Nose
Nasal Discharge
Ocular ( Eye) Discharge
Gagging, drooling
Loss of or decreased appetite
Rapid breathing
Nasal and oral ulcers
Squinting or rubbing eyes
Open-mouth breathing

A cat’s susceptibility to URT infections depends on age, immunity, vaccination status, physical condition and stress. Outbreaks of URT infections are common in high stress situations such as shelters, catteries or boarding facilities.

If your cat has a URT infection you should take her to see your veterinarian. Many times supportive care such as fluids and force feeding may be necessary. Sometimes antibiotics are needed if there is a secondary infection.

Holistic treatments can involve herbal medicine, homemade diets, food therapy and acupuncture to support the immune system. L-Lysine can be very helpful for cats suffering from Herpes viruses and can be used anytime an outbreak occurs through out the pet’s life. Pet Wellbeing has a respiratory product called Throat Gold (link is: This could be used an alternative to antibiotics and contains herbs to support the immune system as well.

Prevention of URT infections includes: kitten vaccinations ( kittens should receive their kitten vaccines and a vaccine at 1 year of age–thereafter titers should be done to determine if any vaccines need to be repeated); stress reduction; keeping your cat indoors to limit exposure and; feeding a good diet that will support a healthy immune system. Products such as Spark that I mentioned yesterday are great to strengthen the immune system and prevent infections.


Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for 28 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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