Sneezing, coughing, runny nose and congestion – we’ve all had these cold symptoms at some time or another.
But if your cat has them, it could be an indication of a different problem altogether.
A cat with some of those typical cold symptoms may actually have an upper respiratory infection (URI). Feline URIs won’t just go away on their own like a human cold might; if untreated they can actually lead to life-long problems or secondary bacterial infections.
First a few facts about the infection, then we’ll talk about what you can do to avoid and treat it.
Feline (cat) URIs are not contagious to dogs or humans, but an infected cat can give it to other cats.
Feline upper respiratory infections are often made up of a combination of several separate viruses – a common one is that of herpes and calicivirus.
The cat herpes virus (known as FHV-1) can cause red, inflamed eyes, fever, sneezing fits and coughing; if a case is left untreated and is severe, it can lead to permanent vision problems.
Feline calicivirus (or FCV) can cause limping, hair loss, mouth and throat ulcers, exhaustion, a lack of interest in eating and difficulty breathing.
In other words, you don’t want your cat to go through any of that.
As noted, if one cat is sick the infection can easily spread to other cats. This may happen if they share the same food or water bowls, groom one another or sneeze and cough near another cat. If a person holds or pets a sick cat and then touches a healthy one, the infection can be shared that way as well.
A sneeze or cough from an infected cat can spread the virus up to four feet away, which is an unpleasant but important fact. The infection is spread through a cat’s saliva and discharge from their eyes and noses. A four-foot spray can send the virus out to lurk on fabric, skin or fur, and can actively infect others for anywhere from a few days to several weeks.
So what can you do about it?
As a preventive measure, immunizations can limit the occurrence and severity of upper respiratory infections in your cat. When a number of cats live together – even temporarily – they are more prone to URIs, as are kittens in general. This is why cats in most shelters and rescue situations are immunized before they can be adopted. (This is a good thing to ask about when adopting a cat.)
The virus is easily spread by cats outdoors and can even “live” in dirt and garden areas for days. For that and other health and safety reasons, cats should be kept indoors at all times.
If you begin to see symptoms of a possible URI, keep a close eye on the cat. To avoid spreading the symptoms, the cat should be isolated in a separate room with its own water, food and cat box.
Dr. Angie Stamm, a mobile veterinarian serving the Sacramento area, says that all cats occasionally sneeze. But watch the cat to see if the sneezing is combined with other symptoms (coughing, eye or nose discharge, lack of interest in eating, and other items mentioned above).
If the symptoms seem to get worse or more frequent over a day or two, Dr. Stamm advises that the cat be taken to a veterinarian right away. If getting to a vet is difficult, a mobile vet may be able to come to your home to check the cat out.
Medicine or other treatments may be needed if the virus is present and active; untreated URIs can lead to permanent damage to your pet. Keeping an eye on your cat’s health is an important part of their care.
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