Respiratory Infections & Viruses

Below are the most common respiratory infections and viruses found in all breeds of cats.  The symptoms of many of these are the same but the treatment protocols may differ, so we always recommend running a respiratory PCR (polymerase chain reaction) panel for exact diagnosis.

Bordetella
Bordetella is a highly infectious disease more often associated with dogs (known as "kennel cough"). However, it is also  found in cats. It may be the primary cause of respiratory disease in cats which is transmitted by other cats and dogs through sneezing or coughing.

Symptoms:
Symptoms of bordetella are similar to that of other causes of upper respiratory infections in cats. 

  • Coughing and/or sneezing
  • Nasal and/ocurlar discharge
  • Fever
  • Anorexia (loss of appetite) and/or depression

Treatment and prevention:
Bordetella can be treated with antibiotics. Your veterinarian will prescribe the appropriate course for your cat.

Chlamydia (all our kittens are vaccinated for this)
Chylamydia is a bacteria based respiratory infection characterized by conjunctivitis; an abnormal eye discharge due to inflammation of the conjunctiva and the white part of the eye itself. The eyes initially develop a watery discharge, as the infection progresses, the conjunctiva becomes reddened and swollen and the discharge becomes thicker. Symptoms usually appear around 5 days after exposure.

Symptoms:

  • Conjunctivitis
  • Mild upper respiratory symptoms
  • Low-grade fever
  • Nasal discharge
  • Sneezing may also be present.

Treatment and prevention:
Antibiotic eye ointment (usually tetracycline) or oral antibiotics will be prescribed. In some cases, a steroid-based antibiotic ointment will be given.

Feline calicivirus (FCV)  (all our kittens are vaccinated for this)
Calicivirus (FCV) is a common viral infection found in cats that is characterized by the presence of flu-like symptoms such as upper respiratory infection.

Symptoms:

  • Sneezing
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Nasal discharge and/or ocular (eye) discharge
  • Fever
  • Rhinitis (inflammation of the nasal mucous membranes)
  • Salivation and/or ulceration of the tongue and palate
  • Gingivitis (inflamed gums)
  • Pneumonia can develop with more virulent strains of calicivirus

Treatment and prevention:
All kittens should be vaccinated for this at a young age. 

Feline herpesvirus 1 (FHV-1; also known as feline rhinotracheitis virus)  (all our kittens are vaccinated for this)
Feline herpesvirus is the most common cause of upper respiratory disease in cats. The virus infects and grows in nose, eyes, sinus, throat, mouth and tonsils of a cat which causes inflammation and fever. Due to the nasal discharge, the cat's sense of smell is severely diminished, causing his appetite to wane. While the loss of appetite is dangerous in all cats, it is especially so in kittens.

To diagnose, your veterinarian will perform a physical examination of your cat.  Most cases of feline herpes are diagnosed based on physical signs, especially if your cat has corneal ulcers.  

Symptoms:

  • Sneezing
  • Ocular (eye) discharge and/or nasal discharge which may be clear and watery or thick and mucoid
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite (anorexia)
  • Lethargy
  • Drooling
  • Corneal ulcers (pain, squinting, sensitivity to light, cloudiness of the cornea)

Treatment and prevention:
There is no cure for feline herpes, once a cat is infected he has the virus for life. The goal is to give supportive care, treat the symptoms and try to shorten the duration. Treatment also depends on severity and symptoms and may include:

  • Keeping the nostrils and eyes clear of discharges. Use cotton balls dipped in warm water to wipe away any discharge.
  • Broad spectrum antibiotics may be prescribed, these are ineffective against the herpes virus, but may be used to prevent or treat secondary infections that may occur.
  • Oral antiviral drugs such as acyclovir, famciclovir or ganciclovir may be prescribed to treat severe infections. In  cats suffering from corneal ulcers, antiviral eye ointment may be given.
  • L-Lysine is an essential amino acid which has been shown to suppress viral replication and inhibit cytopathogenicity. However, you should always speak to your veterinarian before you supplement your cat's diet.

Influenza
Feline influenza is similar to a nasty bout of the flu in people, and has similar symptoms and effects. Cat flu can make your cat quite ill, and while healthy adult cats will usually fight off the infection with time and veterinary care, young kittens, elderly cats and cats whose immune system has been weakened by another illness or condition may be hit particularly hard by the infection, which can prove fatal.

Symptoms:
Feline influenza is fairly straightforward to identify, and is rarely confused with other similar conditions. Cats affected with feline influenza will display some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Sneezing
  • Noisy, raspy or congested-sounding breathing
  • A runny nose and eyes
  • Cough, or a sore throat that is evident due to raspy meows
  • Dribbling
  • Lethargy and generally subdued behaviour
  • High temperature
  • Lack of interest in food and loss of appetite

Treatment and prevention:
A  large part of the treatment required for cat flu is intensive nursing rather than the administration of a definitive cure. Currently, no antiviral agents are commonly used to treat cat flu per se, but antiviral medications may be used to help fight infection. The main part of treatment involves keeping the cat comfortable and supporting their physical needs in order to give their bodies the best chances of fighting off the infection and recovering.

Treatment may involve:

  • Ensuring that the cat remains hydrated
  • Encouraging the cat to eat with particularly tasty treats, and occasionally resorting to IV feeding
  • Keeping the cat warm and comfortable
  • Cleaning discharge from the eyes and nose
  • Helping to ease breathing using steam inhalants
  • Treating bacterial infections with antibiotics

Mycoplasma
The severity from cats that are mildly anemic and without clinical signs to cats that are markedly depressed and die as a result of severe anemia. The most common clinical signs in ill cats are depression, weakness, anorexia, weight loss and pale mucous membranes. Studies have estimated the prevalence of this bacterium in the feline population from 0.9 to 28%.

Symptoms:

  • Coughing, sniffling and sneezing
  • Spontaneous miscarriage or infertility
  • Frequent urination or problems evacuating the bladder
  • Bloody urine
  • Colitis, which causes mucoid or bloody diarrhea
  • Lethargy, weakness, depression and fatigue
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Lesions or abscesses on the skin

Treatment and prevention:
Most mycoplasma infections in cats can be treated with antibiotics. In severe cases, supportive therapy, including IV fluids, may be needed to stabilize your cat's condition. In less severe cases, your cat may be able to recover at home with the help of antibiotics. The prognosis for mycoplasma infection is usually good if the cat is otherwise healthy. 

URI Testing via PCR

There are a number of different upper respiratory bacterial and viral agents often categorized as "URIs".  Since treatment and quarantine protocols differ among these pathogens, we periodically run PCR tests on even our asymptomatic breeders in order to spot and treat accurately.  We encourage pet owners to do the same if they notice any URI symptoms such as coughing, sneezing or mild to severe conjunctivitis.  A respiratory PCR panel tests for:

 Bordetella bronchiseptica
 Chlamydophila felis
 Feline calicivirus (FCV)
 Feline herpesvirus 1 (FHV-1; also known as feline rhinotracheitis virus)
 Influenza
 Mycoplasma felis

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