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URIs in Cats: Causes Symptoms and How to Keep Your Feline Healthy

Upper Respiratory Infections in Cats: Causes and Common Symptoms

As a cat owner, it’s essential to keep tabs on your cat’s health and watch for any signs of distress. One of the most common health issues in cats is an upper respiratory infection (URI).

URIs in cats can be caused by a number of factors, including viral or bacterial infections. Feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus are two of the most common culprits, and both can be transmitted through contact with an infected cat.

The symptoms of a URI in cats are similar to those in humans. Sneezing, coughing, and discharge from the eyes and nose are common symptoms.

Your cat may also have a fever and develop ulcers in their mouth. These symptoms can be uncomfortable and may cause your cat to act differently than usual.

If you notice any of these symptoms, you should take your cat to see a veterinarian.

When to Seek Veterinary Care

If your cat has a URI, you should watch for any changes in their behavior. Lack of appetite, listlessness, and difficulty breathing are all signs that your cat may need veterinary care.

Your vet may prescribe antibiotics to help fight the infection and provide other supportive care to make sure your cat is comfortable.

Supportive Care at Home

Aside from veterinary care, there are some things you can do at home to help ease your cat’s discomfort. Providing canned food instead of dry food can help your cat stay hydrated and may be easier to eat if they have a sore throat.

A warm shower can also help to loosen congestion and make it easier for your cat to breathe. Over-the-counter drops may be recommended to help relieve eye and nasal discharge.

Prevention and Management of Upper Respiratory Infections in Cats

Vaccination and Existing Cat Health

One of the best ways to help prevent a URI in your cat is through vaccination. Regular vaccination can help to boost your cat’s immune functioning and provide protection against viruses like feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus.

If your cat is not vaccinated, they may be at higher risk for getting sick. Make sure to schedule annual check-ups with your veterinarian to make sure your cat is getting the necessary vaccinations and maintaining their health.

Quarantine and Reducing Stress

It’s also essential to take preventative measures if you have a cat that’s already experiencing a URI. Quarantining your sick cat can help to prevent the spread of infection to other cats in your household.

Make sure your cat has their own food and water bowls and litter box to minimize contact with other cats. Reducing stress is also essential for both preventing and managing URIs in cats.

Stress can weaken your cat’s immune system and make them more susceptible to infection. Adjustments to your cat’s environment such as providing a quiet and comfortable space, playing soft music, and ensuring they have plenty of resting areas can help to reduce stress.

If you’re introducing a new cat into your home, make sure to take preventative care measures, including vaccinations and quarantine. New cats may carry viruses that your existing cat is not immune to, making them more susceptible to infection.


Upper respiratory infections in cats can be uncomfortable for your cat and stressful for you as a cat owner. Taking preventative measures such as regular vaccinations, keeping your cat’s environment stress-free, and taking your cat to the vet at the earliest sign of symptoms can help to prevent and manage URIs. Providing supportive care at home such as canned food, warm showers, and over-the-counter drops can also help to ease your cat’s discomfort.

It’s essential to prioritize your cat’s health and well-being and take quick action at the first sign of distress.

Contagious Nature of Upper Respiratory Infections in Cats

Upper respiratory infections (URIs) in cats are a common health concern, especially in populations such as shelters and catteries. These populations tend to have higher incidences of infection due to the stress that cats experience in communal living environments.

Stress can weaken a cat’s immune system, making them more susceptible to infections. Additionally, cats that have chronic medical conditions or are immunosuppressed from disease or medication may be more prone to URIs.

Frequency of Infections in Cat Populations

In high-density populations such as shelters and catteries, URIs are more frequent and can spread quickly. The stress of living in a communal environment, along with cats being housed in close proximity to one another, creates ideal conditions for viruses and bacteria to spread.

URIs can even spread from asymptomatic cats, which means that just because a cat appears healthy, it does not mean that they are not contagious. Shelters and catteries can take preventative measures to reduce the spread of URIs. Keeping cats in separate areas, providing good hygiene, and limiting stress as much as possible can help to prevent the spread of infection.

Explaining the Contagious Nature of Upper Respiratory Infections

URIs in cats are contagious, and the infection can quickly spread from cat to cat. The viruses and bacteria that cause URIs in cats can be spread through sneezing, coughing, or contact with infected secretions or surfaces.

Once a cat is infected, the virus or bacteria can reside on their skin, fur, and in their environment for several days. Secondary bacterial infections are common with URIs, and feline chlamydiosis and Bordetella are two bacteria species that are often associated with infections in cats.

Feline chlamydiosis is highly contagious and can cause symptoms similar to those of a URI, including sneezing, coughing, and discharge from the eyes and nose. Bordetella can cause a persistent cough, and infected cats may also experience eye discharge and upper respiratory symptoms.

Chronic Infections and Flare-Ups

While most URIs in cats are self-limiting and will resolve on their own, chronic infections can occur in some cats. When cats are exposed to the same infectious agents repeatedly, they may experience periodic flare-ups of URI symptoms.

These symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can include congestion, sneezing, and coughing. Cats with chronic infections may need to undergo further veterinary evaluation to determine the underlying cause of their symptoms.

Treatment options may include preventative care measures such as vaccines and medication to manage symptoms. Fluorescein dye may also be used to detect ulcers in the eyes that may be contributing to recurrent infections.

The exception is feline herpesvirus, which can cause recurring flare-ups throughout a cat’s lifetime. Chronic infections can cause permanent damage to the respiratory system, and cats with chronic infections often require ongoing care and treatment.

Preventative Care

Preventative care is crucial when it comes to managing and preventing URIs in cats. Regular vaccinations, especially for feline herpesvirus and calicivirus, are critical for reducing the severity and frequency of URIs. Ensuring your cat’s living environment is clean and stress-free can also help to reduce the spread of infection.

If you have multiple cats, take preventative measures such as providing each cat with their own food and water bowls and litter box to reduce the risk of infection spread. Additionally, avoid introducing new cats to your household until they have been screened for infections.


URIs in cats are a common health issue, particularly in populations such as shelters and catteries. The contagious nature of URIs means that infection can easily spread from cat to cat.

Preventative care measures, including vaccinations, good hygiene, and reduced stress, can help to prevent infection from occurring in the first place. For cats that do experience chronic infections or flare-ups of URI symptoms, veterinary evaluation and ongoing care are essential to manage symptoms and prevent permanent damage.

Upper respiratory infections (URIs) are common in cats and can have serious consequences if not managed appropriately. Proper vaccination, preventative care measures, and seeking veterinary care at the first sign of symptoms are crucial to prevent the spread of infection and manage chronic infections effectively.

While URIs can be debilitating for cats, with the right care, many cats can make a full recovery. As a cat owner, it’s essential to stay vigilant about your cat’s health and well-being to keep them healthy and happy for years to come.

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