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Various infectious organisms have been isolated from the respiratory tract of cats. Most of these organisms are highly contagious, widespread, and some can cause fatal disease. These organisms include Rhinotracheitis virus, Calicivirus, Chlamydia psittaci (Pneumonitis), reoviruses, Mycoplasma and various bacteria. In most cases, isolation of the offending organism is neither necessary nor cost-effective.

Respiratory diseases are transmitted by direct contact with infected cats or discharges from their eyes, nose, mouth or other body fluids. Some of these organisms are spread by contaminated clothing, hands, feeding utensils, grooming equipment, and other articles. In some cases, the organisms are air-borne for short distances. Even indoor cats can be exposed to viral diseases carried in the air, in dust, or on clothing. Vaccination is inexpensive protection against costly treatment, or even the premature death of your cat!

The most common signs of respiratory disease are sneezing, cough, discharge from the eyes, nose or mouth, conjunctivitis (eyelid infections), difficult breathing, gagging, fever, mouth ulcers, general depression, lack of appetite, and weight loss. High death rates can occur in young cats, immune-suppressed cats, and “old” cats. Some infections last only a few days, while others may be present for weeks or months. Some of these disease agents exist in a carrier state in apparently healthy cats.


While most respiratory infections can be treated at home, severely ill cats require hospitalization and repeated laboratory tests and radiographs (x-rays) to monitor the response to treatment. Cats that are reluctant to eat or are unable to eat often need to be hospitalized.

Treatment usually involves antibiotics, fluid therapy, antihistamines, anti-inflammatory medication, and sometimes eye ointment.

For 80 to 85% of cats, one treatment at the hospital with continued care at home is all that is needed for recovery. Perhaps 10 to 15% will need to have a second treatment at the hospital, with about 5% requiring hospitalization. Intensity of treatment depends upon the age and health of the affected cat, along with the virulence strength) of the virus.

Give all of the prescribed medication as directed. Call the Doctor if you cannot give the medication.

Antibiotics: Give ______ cc ________ daily until gone.

Antihistamines: Give ________________ of _____________________ two to three times daily as needed for sneezing and congestion. This may make your cat sleepy and the dosage can be adjusted as needed for this.

Remove all secretions from the eyes, nose and mouth several times each day with a moistened cloth or facial tissue.

Encourage your cat to drink water. Provide fresh, clean water at all times. Try different foods with a strong odor, such as fish-flavored canned foods, to encourage appetite. Most cats will not eat as well because the congestion has affected their sense of smell. If your cat does not eat or drink, he/she will need to be brought back to the clinic for continued fluid therapy to combat dehydration.

ISOLATE your cat from all other cats and kittens. Upper respiratory diseases are highly CONTAGIOUS. It is not uncommon to have multiple cats in a household come down with this disease.

Notify the Doctor if any of the following occur:

  • Your cat’s signs worsen or new signs occur.
  • Your cat has trouble breathing or refuses to eat.
  • Your cat seems depressed or loses weight.

PREVENTION can be achieved by vaccinating your cat with the FVRCP (Feline Distemper and Upper Respiratory viruses) vaccine. This vaccine will not protect your cat from all of the possible causes of the respiratory disease complex, but it does protect against the major viruses: Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, and Pneumonitis (chlamydia)—FVRCP. A SERIES of the initial injection is necessary to build the antibody protection needed to help your cat develop a high degree of immunity against these diseases.