Upper respiratory infection or URI in cats is a broad and common diagnosis involving the nose, eyes, and sinuses. An upper respiratory infection may also be referred to as upper Respiratory Disease Complex or URD or Feline Infectious Respiratory Disease.

Upper respiratory infections in cats usually clear up with supportive care and some meds from a veterinarian. 

However, an untreated URI can lead to a more serious lower respiratory disease affecting the lungs. 

Home Remedies for Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats

home remedies for upper respiratory infection in catsCan you treat feline upper respiratory infection in cats at home? 

While it is always recommended that you consult your vet, there are a few things you can do to aid in your feline companion’s relief.

  • Apple cider vinegar for upper respiratory infection in cats
  • Humidifier
  • Stinky foods

Home Remedies for URIs in Cats

TreatmentWhat Does it Treat?Instructions
Apple cider vinegar
  • URIs in cats
  • Deters mites and fleas
  • Urinary tract infections
  1. Dilute apple cider vinegar with water (1:3)
  2. Use a soft cloth to dip into the mixture
  3. Gently wipe your cat’s chest and throat area
  4. Keep mixture away from face and eyes
  5. It’s okay if your cat licks it off, it will help!
Humidifier
  • Relieves congestion
  • Keeps airways moist to avoid irritation
Add a humidifier to the room where a sick kitty is staying
Stinky foods
  • Anorexia
Cats won’t eat what they can’t smell so give them something stinky that they enjoy

  • Tuna
  • Salmon
  • Warmed canned food can also smell more pungent than usual

Apple Cider Vinegar for Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats

apple cider vinegar for upper respiratory infection in cats

Apple cider vinegar isn’t only good for upper respiratory infection in cats, but it also can be used as a flea and mite deterrent and a helpful tool in fighting off urinary tract infections.

Get the good stuff! You want the apple cider vinegar with the brownish cloud of gunk on the bottom of the bottle. Believe it or not, that’s the most effective apple cider vinegar for upper respiratory infection in cats.

Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats: How Long Does It Last?

upper respiratory infection in cats how long does it lastMost cats will probably experience an upper respiratory infection at least once in their lives, especially if they are around other cats often. Luckily, URIs in cats are rarely fatal and only severely affect the most immunocompromised kitties.

It is worth noting that senior cats or seriously immunocompromised cats can avoid contracting illnesses by simply staying in and away from animals outside of the home. Don’t worry; most cats are okay with this scenario!

What is the incubation period for feline upper respiratory infection?

The incubation period is the chunk of time between initial infection and the onset of clinical signs and symptoms. The incubation period for the viral and bacterial agents causing upper respiratory infection in cats is anywhere from 2 – 14days.

How long do upper respiratory infections in cats last?

The window of time that the disease lasts is highly dependent on the combination of bacterial and viral culprits involved. Feline Calicivirus and Feline Herpesvirus can come with some yucky symptoms that may take longer to go away.

URI symptoms in cats commonly last 7-14 days but may last up to 21 days in some cases. However, shedding of the viral and bacterial agents may continue for up to 30 days!

How do Feline Upper Respiratory Infections Spread?

The most common causes of upper respiratory infection in cats are highly contagious agents that can easily infect animals when they come in close contact with each other.

As a cat owner, you may be thinking, “my cat barely wants to hang out with me, let alone other cats and animals.” And while that’s a true story for many kitties, there are some cases where one cannot avoid interaction.

Upper respiratory infections in cats spread in one of two ways:

  1. Direct contact with an infected kitty
  2. Environmental exposure

A cat suffering from an upper respiratory infection will shed the bacterial or viral agent via secretions such as:

  • Nasal and ocular emissions
  • Saliva
  • Poop

As you may guess, it can prove challenging to keep cats separate and uninfected in a multi-cat home, particularly if you have super sweet cats who bathe each other. However, isolation is one of the only ways to eliminate the possibility of infection in a multi-cat home.

Places where upper respiratory infection in cats spread like crazy are:

  • Animal shelters
  • Catteries and cat cafes
  • Foster homes and multi-cat homes

Cats shed contagious viral and bacterial infections through secretions and excretions, so basically, anything they touch may now cause an infection. This is referred to as environmental exposure.

Feline upper respiratory infection can be exchanged from cat to cat via:

  • Litter pans
  • Water & food bowls
  • Toys
  • Bedding

Some culprits like Feline Herpesvirus can remain in the environment for a mere 18 hours, while Feline Calicivirus can last in the environment for up to 10 days!

To get rid of Calicivirus, one has to do more than simply wash an infected item in hot water. To kill any bacterial agents, throw a capful of bleach in with some detergent to clean contaminated bedding, plushies, and other washables.

How to Isolate Cats

Please do not let this information discourage your cat-loving instincts to have more furry bundles of joy. If you have several cats at home, isolation is a beneficial and often necessary tool for stopping infections from spreading from cat to cat indefinitely.

  1. Use a cozy room such as a bedroom as an isolation room. Remember, you’re not at risk of contracting a URI from your cat, but your other cats are.
  2. Fill the room with your kitty’s favorite things: toys, blankets, food and clean water bowls, and a clean and separate litter pan.
  3. Clean your kitty’s bowls often so they don’t re-infecting themselves through their environment.
  4. Add a humidifier to soothe your cat’s cough, sneezing, and throat irritation.
  5. Check on your kitty often! It is imperative to be sure a cat is eating and staying hydrated.

Causes of Feline Upper Respiratory Infections

feline upper respiratory infectionAs mentioned above, upper respiratory infections in cats are caused by one or more bacterial or viral agents. Below are the four most common causes of URIs in cats:

  1. Feline Calicivirus
  2. Feline Herpesvirus Type-1
  3. Bordetella Bronchiseptica
  4. Chlamydia Felis

Of these causes, studies show that Feline Calicivirus and Feline Herpesvirus Type-1 cause about 90% of upper respiratory infections in cats.

Feline Calicivirus (FCV)

Calicivirus, along with Feline Herpesvirus, are the leading viruses causing upper respiratory infection in cats. Both viruses are highly contagious and spread quickly in places where cats are in enclosed areas together. Calicivirus affects the nose, lungs, and mouth, and sometimes causes painful ulcers on the tongue.

Rare case # 1: Calicivirus can cause ulcers on the tongue, hard palate, nose, and mouth, or a kitty may experience inflammation of the joints.

Rare case #2: Calicivirus can manifest as virulent systemic FCV, which affects the organs and blood vessels.

Please keep in mind these are very rare cases, and calicivirus primarily manifests with typical cold symptoms.

Is there a vaccine for calicivirus?

There is a Calicivirus vaccine, CaliciVax, but it does not guarantee complete immunity. Because Calicivirus can come in many different strains, the efficacy of Calicivax is uncertain.

CaliciVax is a non-core vaccine and is not required by the veterinarian. If you would like to add this vaccine to the annual roster, consult your vet.

Feline Herpesvirus Type-1

Feline Herpesvirus is another super infectious virus that causes upper respiratory infections in cats. Herpes virus in cats manifests much differently than herpes in humans. Now before you ask, no, humans cannot get Herpesvirus from cats.

Feline Herpesvirus manifests as:

  • runny eyes and nose
  • ulcers on the eyes and mouth
  • severe conjunctivitis causing such irritation that a kitty’s eyes may appear closed
  • sensitivity to light can cause a kitty to squint

Bordetella Bronchiseptica

At this point, you may have heard of the Bordetella Bronchiseptica, or “kennel cough bacteria.” Heck, you might be able to write a book about it by now!

However, pet parents may still wonder, can cats get kennel cough? 

Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Cats can also catch kennel cough. This is why kennels, shelters, and boarding facilities are so adamant about pets receiving the Bordetella vaccine while staying in the places mentioned above.

The cool thing about cats is that they usually don’t attend regular play dates, daycares, or boarding facilities. So they are much less likely to catch kennel cough simply due to avoidance.

Chlamydophila Felis

Chlamydophila felis, sometimes shortened to Chlamydia, is considered an obligate intracellular bacteria that affects the upper respiratory system in cats. C. felis is often the cause of very severe irritation and inflammation of the eyes and eyelids.

  • Felis can cause inflammation and irritation to the conjunctiva of the eyelid or the inside of the eyelid. Sometimes a chlamydia infection can be so nasty that the conjunctiva joins the cornea, which can cause blindness in cats.

Lastly, stress can have a pretty negative effect on a cat’s immune system, making them more vulnerable to bacterial and viral agents that cause upper respiratory infections in cats.

Cat Upper Respiratory Infection Symptoms

Cat upper respiratory infection symptoms

  • Ocular and nasal discharge
  • Sneezing
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Nasal congestion
  • Coughing
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Possible difficulty breathing
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Blepharospasm (squinting)

FCV and VFR may cause ulcers of the mouth

Please note that coughing can also indicate heartworm, heart disease, a lower respiratory infection, or even Pneumonia in cats.

How to Treat Feline Upper Respiratory Infections

Treating feline upper respiratory infectionTreatment of upper respiratory infections in cats is mainly based on supportive and nursing care, meaning the condition is treated symptomatically.

Top treatment options for upper respiratory infections in cats include:

  1. Cat upper respiratory infection antibiotics
  2. Lysine for cat upper respiratory infections
  3. Eye medication

Upper Respiratory Infections in Cats

Causes SymptomsTreatment
Viruses

  • Feline Calicivirus
  • Feline Herpesvirus

Bacteria

  • Bordetella Bronchiseptica
  • Chlamydophila felis
  • Ocular and nasal discharge
  • Sneezing
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Nasal congestion
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Possible difficulty breathing
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Blepharospasm (squinting)
Supportive care:

  • Warmth
  • Hydration
  • Nutrition
  • L-lysine

Antibiotics: 

  • Doxycycline
  • Azithromycin
  • Clavamox

Eye Medication:

  • Corticosteroid ointment
  • Eye drops
  • Oral meds

Cat Upper Respiratory Infection Antibiotics

Oftentimes a secondary bacterial infection can accompany a virus causing URI in cats. In this case, antibiotics may be necessary for total recovery. The top antibiotics used to cure an upper respiratory infection in cats are:

  • Doxycycline
  • Azithromycin
  • Amoxicillin/Clavulanate

Best Antibiotic for Feline Upper Respiratory Infection

Doxycycline is a commonly used antibiotic in treating upper respiratory infections in cats and dogs. Cats tolerate doxycycline well, and it covers a broad spectrum of bacterial and fungal infections, including Chlamydophila felis and Bordetella Bronchiseptica.

Doxycycline has exceeded many other antibiotics in performance and efficacy, hence why doxycycline may be considered the best antibiotic for upper respiratory infection in cats.

Azithromycin may be used if doxycycline is not appropriate. Azithromycin is a broad-spectrum antibiotic that combats certain bacteria, parasites, and rickettsial infections.

Cat Upper Respiratory Infection Not Responding to Antibiotics?

Your vet may recommend more risky antibiotics and probiotics if the bacteria does not respond to typically prescribed antibiotics. More in-depth tests may be done by your vet or animal hospital to find the culprit.

It is important to remember that upper respiratory infections in cats can be solely due to one or more viral infections. In that case, antibiotics would be of no use in eradicating the infection.

Amoxicillin for Cats Respiratory Infection

Amoxicillin is another commonly used antibiotic in cats and dogs, but it is not used alone. Clavulanate potassium is necessary for amoxicillin’s antibiotic properties to work.

Often a bacteria can destroy amoxicillin before it destroys the bacteria. Clavulanic acid is added to protect the amoxicillin from destructive bacteria, allowing the antibiotic to do its job.

Clavamox or other amoxicillin/clavulanate combos are available from your vet to effectively treat several types of bacterial infections in cats, including Bordetella Bronchiseptica.

L-lysine for Cats Upper Respiratory Infection

Lysine is an amino acid supplement that has been used to treat Feline Herpesvirus, a common cause of upper respiratory infection in cats. Unfortunately, the evidence for this hypothesis is lacking.

BioMed Central researches and compiles evidence for the immediate stop of the use of L-lysine for cats with URIs. 

Although L-lysine does not have any antiviral properties, it is thought to aid in recovery from cold symptoms by keeping the Herpesvirus from replicating; however, the evidence is inconclusive.

It is also important to note that L-lysine is not as vigorously tested as other medications by the FDA in the United States, so any use of L-lysine should be discussed with your vet first.

Eye Medication

VFR or Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (Feline Herpesvirus-1) and Feline Calicivirus are the two most common causes of eye infections in cats. Irritation and infections like conjunctivitis are frequent occurrences in kitties with these viral offenders.

Signs of eye infections in cats include:

  • Watery eyes
  • Whites of eyes are red
  • Rubbing eyes
  • Winking or squinting
  • Discharge
  • Eyelid is swollen or irritated

Topical eye drops, corticosteroid ointments, and oral eye medication are available from your vet. Over-the-counter eye medications are also available. Still, it is strongly recommended that one consult their vet instead of Google reviews when it comes to your pet’s medication and recovery.

Kitten Upper Respiratory Infections

kitten upper respiratory infectionTo see a squinting kitten with watering eyes with the tiniest sneezes is enough to make one weep. When a kitten is suffering from an upper respiratory infection, extra steps may be necessary for recovery. This could mean late and early morning feedings and other extra steps a pet owner may have to take for a kitten with a URI.

Kitten Upper Respiratory Infection Home Treatment

  1. Nutrition
  2. Saline nasal spray (without any additives)
  3. Provide warmth
  4. Keep them hydrated
  5. Keep eyes and nose clean

The humidifier home remedy can alleviate congestion in kittens and adult cats with upper respiratory infections.

Just remember to never add any oils or menthol to the water in the humidifier. 

Nutrition

It sounds simple, but the importance of nutrition when dealing with a sick kitten is vital. Depending on their age and severity of illness, some kittens may need to be fed by syringe or bottle.

Within 24 hours, a kitten that doesn’t eat or eats less than half of what they usually do needs to be seen by a veterinarian.

Provide warmth

A sick kitten requires “supplemental” heat.

Although a soft, snuggly blanket is just what the doctor ordered, additional warmth should be provided, particularly for a sick kitten. Kittens don’t have much meat on their bones at that point in their life, so they need a bit of extra help. Pet owners can provide a baby kitty with things like rice socks, a warming disk, or a heated blanket or pad.

Always make sure to monitor the temperature of the source of warmth before allowing the kitten near.

Keep them hydrated

Hydration is ALWAYS critical in the healing of most mammals.

Cats’ bodies are made up of 60%-70% water. Unlike dogs, cats don’t consistently lap up water with excitement; however, it is essential to closely monitor cats’ and kittens’ water intake during an illness. Dehydration is dangerous in all cats but especially in kittens.

Keep eyes and nose clean

Moisten a warm, soft towel to wipe away eye and nose secretions regularly. When the ocular and nasal secretion is allowed to dry, it is much more difficult to remove, and the kitten may be unable to open their eyes.

Don’t forget these kitten respiratory infection red flags:

  • Anorexia,
  • Lethargy
  • Coughing

If your kitten experiences any of these symptoms, you should consult with your vet as soon as possible.

Upper Respiratory Infection in Dogs

upper respiratory infection in dogs
If your dog keeps trying to cough something up, it could be kennel cough.

As you already know, kennel cough is caused by the bacteria Bordetella Bronchiseptica. Bordetella in dogs manifests in the same way as any upper respiratory illness does, sharing symptoms with their feline counterparts.

Treating Respiratory Infection in Dogs

  • Upper respiratory antibiotics
  • Dog cough medicine
  • Hydration
  • Healthy nutrition
  • Keep them warm
  • Limit exercise
  • Rest up!

The supportive care for dogs is about the same for cats, although a dog may be a bit more apt at actually listening to your suggestions.

Not unlike their kitty counterparts, dogs respond well to antibiotics like doxycycline for kennel cough and amoxicillin/clavulanate to combat bacterial infections. Antibiotics are often prescribed to dogs who are assumed to have contracted a Bordetella bronchiseptica infection.

Dog cough medicine and cough suppressants like antitussives can be given to dogs to soothe a sore throat and quiet a bothersome cough. This extra medicinal helper may be necessary to ensure restful sleep and, in turn, steady recovery from upper respiratory infection in dogs.

Dog Upper Respiratory Infection Home Remedy

With so many pharmaceutical options this day and age, the benefits of natural upper respiratory remedies can sometimes be overlooked. That said, it is worth mentioning some of the best home and natural remedies made from ingredients you can find at the local store, farmer’s market, or in your pantry.

  1. Honey
  2. Bone Broth

Honey

Honey is a favorite natural remedy that is chock full of benefits with its antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antioxidant properties.

Honey has been used for healing topical wounds for ages. Honey contains hydrogen peroxide giving it antibacterial properties and speeding reparation of the tissue while discouraging infection.

Although honey has a high sugar content, the sugar is part of what also aids in healing as sugar can stop bacteria production. However, diabetic and overweight pups should avoid honey.

Bone Broth

Bone Broth can be a delicious treat for dogs and a way to keep their fluids and calorie intake up while feeling under the weather. You can give your dog any flavour they prefer, but be sure to get the low-sodium bone broth.

However, avoid bullion cubes. They are packed with salt!

Conclusion

An upper respiratory infection may seem complicated and frightening in cats (and dogs!), but most cases clear up without a hitch.

With supportive care, knowledge, and some medicinal help from your veterinarian, your anti-social fluff ball will be back to itself in no time!