Is Respiratory Infection in Cats dangerous?

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Respiratory infections usually happen in cats, particularly in high-density populations like feral cat colonies, shelters and breeding catteries. The infections occur as a result of different classes of bacteria, viruses, protozoans and fungi. The availability of vaccines has significantly lowered the cases of serious respiratory infections in cats. However, these vaccines have not yet succeeded in the elimination of the causing agents. 

These infections can occur in the upper and the lower regions of the respiratory tract. The upper respiratory region consists of the vocal folds, nasal cavity, oral cavity, nasal passage, sinuses and back of the oral. The lower region consists of the lungs, bronchi and trachea.

How can I tell if my cat has a respiratory infection?

It is possible to determine whether your cat is suffering from a respiratory infection. The most basic symptoms of upper respiratory infection include lack of appetite, sneezing, coughing, lethargy, runny nose, fever, clear or colored discharge from the eyes or nose and sores around the nose, lips and on the roof of the mouth.  At times, your cat may experience difficulties when breathing. Upper respiratory infection in kittens are quite common.

Symptoms of Lower respiratory infection in cats include Anorexia, Lethargy, Coughing as well as increased or difficult breathing.

Chronic upper respiratory infection in cats

Chronic upper respiratory infection in cats can be compared to a cold, but it can become more serious. It happens due to various viruses and bacteria infections. The chronic respiratory infection mainly targets the upper airway; the sinuses, nose and throat away from the lungs.

Symptoms vary according to causes and area of infection. On a higher percentage, viruses are the primary cause of chronic respiratory infections in cats. Viruses cause about 90% of these infections, with the remaining 10% associated with the other causative agents. Multi-cat households and shelters are mainly affected by a chronic upper respiratory infection.

Is upper respiratory infection in cats contagious to humans?

The feline herpes virus is associated with the virus that brings cold sores and chickenpox in humans, but cats can’t transmit it to their owners. If your cat has runny eyes, it implies infection by the Chlamydia bacteria. Oral sores and rapid breathing are symptoms of Feline calicivirus virus infection. Infection by the Bordetella bacteria is mainly linked to overcrowded living environments and stress. If you’ve always wondered how does an indoor cat get an upper respiratory infection, you should know that cats can get fungal infections from exposure to decaying plants and bird droppings whether that’s indoors or in your backyard. 

Viruses are usually present in infected cats’ tears, saliva and nasal secretions. They are conveniently spread through direct contacts such as grooming or touching. They can also be spread when cats sneeze or cough on each other. It is also possible for viruses to survive on shared materials such as cats litter boxes and food bowls. Cat owners can spread viruses amongst their cats through contaminated clothing or hands.

Majority of the cats that are infected by feline herpesvirus become carriers of the virus forever. They can spread the virus even if they don’t appear sick. A perfect example is an infected mother cat with a new litter box of kittens.

Age is a risk factor for chronic upper respiratory infection as elderly cats and kittens are more prone to the infection. Outdoor cats are more likely to come in contact with infected cats or fungi that can lead to infections. Annual vaccines can help prevent your cat from getting these infections or suppress the levels at which they occur. If you own a Persian or flat-faced cat, the breeds are more prone to these respiratory infections due to their facial structure.

Is Chronic Upper Respiratory Infection contagious to other cats & pets?

Upper respiratory infection is contagious to other cats. Cats are vaccinated against the chronic upper respiratory infection, according to veterinarians’ recommendations. However, the vaccine does not guarantee 100% effectiveness. For this reason, it is recommended you isolate all new arrivals in your home for about 8 to 10 days to allow them a chance to settle and ensure they are not infected. You should also isolate cats showing symptoms of the infection and clean your hands after handling infected cats.

For chronic upper respiratory infection treatment, the vet will prescribe the best treatment for your cat. Treatment may involve nutritional support, rest, isolation, and medications. You can also adopt some home-based care to help your cat completely recover. These measures include:

  • Prepare a private, comfortable, resting place.
  • Carefully clean any discharge from the cat’s nose and eyes.
  • Encourage your cat to eat. Chronic upper respiratory infection may make your cat lose the sense of smell. You may consider feeding your cat smellier food such as fish.

How do I treat my cats upper respiratory infection?

Many cat owners often wonder ‘Do Cat upper respiratory infections go away on their own?’ 

While most mild cases of the infection should go away on its own in a matter of a week or two, some infections may take longer or your cat may need help.

Apple Cider Vinegar for upper respiratory infection in cats

Many cat owners swear by Apple Cider vinegar for treating mild cases of upper respiratory infection (and many other health conditions) in cats. Diluted Organic Apple Cider vinegar (with the Mother) such as Braggs can be an effective natural home remedy. We routinely add a few drops of ACV in our cat’s water bowl.


In some cases, your vet may prescribe antibiotics to treat basic bacterial respiratory infections. However, while advanced bacterial infections can lead to the situation deteriorating, the main cause is usually unknown. Antibiotics do not treat such unknown respiratory infections. If your cats’ upper respiratory infection is not responding to antibiotics, you should consult your vet for alternatives. In many cases, the most effective treatment is time and waiting for your cat’s immune system fight the infection.

Very rarely, cats suffering from upper respiratory infection may refuse to eat or drink enough leading to extreme dehydration. If this happens, fluid supplementation and hospitalizations are required.

Lower respiratory infection in cats

The lower respiratory infection in cats is less serious compared to the chronic upper respiratory infection. The infection is usually as a result of non-infectious causes, with an inflammatory respiratory illness linked to allergies or unknown causes being the most common. Reactive cat’s respiratory tracts lead to persistent irritation.  This results in narrowing of the bronchi and production of excess mucus leading to rapid breathing, difficulty breathing and at times nasal discharge and coughing. Affected cats clearly show the signs.

Can a respiratory infection kill a cat?

Respiratory infections in cats are similar to the common cold in humans. It’s very rare for cats to die of respiratory infections. That said, it may be life threatening to senior cats and cats that develop secondary infections and don’t eat and drink for an extended period of time. 

With proper care and sufficient rest, most cats recover from the respiratory infection within one or two weeks. In some cases, your cat might require additional assistance. You can involve a vet if your cat shows any of the following symptoms:

  • Refusing to eat for more than 24 hours
  • Difficulty breathing, particularly breathing through an open mouth or panting.
  • Yellow or green discharge coming from the eyes or nose
  • Diarrhoea or vomiting that exceeds 24 hours
  • No improvements following a week of home care.

Overall, for maximum prevention of respiratory infections, ensure your cat remains indoors to reduce the risk of coming into contact with other infected cats. You can also reduce stress, isolate infected cats to protect other pets in the household and thorough cleaning of your hands when handling multiple cats. Scheduled vaccinations can help prevent these infections and build immunity so that your cat can withstand potential respiratory infections in the future.

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