Feline Upper Respiratory Disease

Feline upper respiratory disease is a viral condition seen in cats of any age. The most common symptoms seen with the cat “flu” include sneezing, sinus congestion, and watery eyes. There is often a fever present, which results in the cat sleeping more and eating less. The disease normally runs its course in about 1-3 weeks time as long as there are no complications.

As is the case with influenza in man, each of us will express a slightly different degree of symptoms based on our unique makeup. For example, some cats will show very little ocular symptoms but may be terribly congested and sneeze a lot while others may show hardly any congestion at all. The fever may go up and down during the course of the disease and thus the behavior will do likewise. The immune system is primarily responsible for removing the virus and usually needs approximately 7-10 days to produce enough antibodies to overwhelm the invader unless secondary bacteria move in. In this case additional symptoms may be seen such as pneumonia, vomiting and/or diarrhea.

The diagnosis is usually made in the exam room. A white blood cell count is very helpful to determine the impact of the virus as well as the presence of secondary bacteria. In the simplest of cases no specific treatment is recommended other than good nursing care and observation. In the more debilitated or complicated cases the use of antibiotics, vitamins, and more intensive supportive care are needed. Removing other physiological stress produces such, as exposure to cold weather, and parasites are appropriate.

The best means to avoid this disease, although not foolproof, is to vaccinate against it. The vaccine is relatively safe and very effective against the worst forms of the disease. Being old enough to remember a time before this vaccine was perfected, I saw many kittens suffer horrible ocular ulcers from the calici virus component. Experiences like this has made a believer out of me in the progress of science in veterinary medicine.

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