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Can Your Cat Get an Upper Respiratory Infection (URI)?

Upper respiratory infections are contagious, and easily passed from one cat to another.

Upper respiratory infections, or URIs, are one of the most common infectious diseases seen in cats, particularly in kittens. Symptoms include sneezing, nasal, and ocular discharges, and sometimes more serious symptoms.

What Causes an Upper Respiratory Infection or URI in a Cat?

Upper respiratory infections are contagious, and easily passed from one cat to another. The disease is passed through contact with the aerosolized nasal secretions of an infected cat, or through utensils contaminated by the secretions much like the common cold for a person. URIs can be carried on skin or clothing also, so you could take an infection home with you to your cat if you unknowingly handle a cat with an upper respiratory infection.

URIs are especially common in facilities where large numbers of cats, and/or kittens, are housed together such as shelters, rescues, and pet stores. Kittens and young cats are the hardest hit by the disease, and are at greater risk than mature cats. However, cats of any age can contract an upper respiratory infection.

There are many different viruses, and bacteria that can cause upper respiratory infections in cats. However approximately 90 percent of all URIs are caused by one of two viruses: the feline calicivirus, and the feline rhinotracheitis virus (feline rhinotracheitis is also known as feline herpesvirus). Other organisms that can cause upper respiratory infections are Mycoplasma, Chlamydophila, and Bordetella, plus a number of other viruses, and bacteria. Cats infected with the feline calicivirus, and feline herpesvirus may remain infected with the viruses for life, and can also act as carriers of the diseases. Cats infected with the feline herpesvirus especially are prone to recurrence of symptoms under periods of stress.

What Are the Symptoms of URI in Cats?

Cats with upper respiratory infections display symptoms including sneezing, coughing, wheezing, runny eyes, and a runny nose. Infected cats may not eat well, and may have a fever also. They may be depressed, and lethargic.

A potential complication of an upper respiratory infection is involvement with the lungs causing pneumonia. Cats with pneumonia are typically very ill, and may have difficulty breathing, in addition to the other symptoms associated with a URI.

How Is a URI Treated in an Infected Cat?

Cats with a URI are treated symptomatically. Because the two most common causes of URI are viruses, there is no definite cure.

However, most cats do recover from the infection with time, and appropriate treatment. Kittens and young cats tend to suffer more serious illness than older cats, but any cat with an upper respiratory infection should be examined by a veterinarian.

Treatment with antibiotics is common to ward off pneumonia, and treat any existing bacterial infection. Nursing care is important for cats with upper respiratory infections also.

How Can You Protect Your Cat from URIs?

Vaccinations against both feline calicivirus, and feline rhinotracheitis are available, and are usually combined into one product. Vaccination is recommended for all cats, according to many argumentative essay topics. Typically, kittens start on these vaccines at six to eight weeks old, and receive boosters every three to four weeks until 16 weeks of age. The vaccine should be administered again in a year, and then re-boostered periodically. Your veterinarian will help you determine the proper vaccination schedule for your cat.

Vaccination against feline calicivirus and feline rhinotracheitis will not completely protect your cat from developing an upper respiratory infection. However, cats that are vaccinated tend to have less severe illness, and recover more quickly.


URI is a common illness in cats. The disease is frequently seen in kittens, but can also affect mature cats. It is a contagious disease, easily passed from cat to cat. Vaccination, though it will not completely prevent the disease, is helpful in protecting your cat.

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