Posted by: petsweekly | December 30, 2007

Upper Respiratory Infection – Cats

Feline Upper Respiratory Infection (URI) is very similar to a human’s common cold, and just as miserable to your cats as a cold is to us. URI’s tend to be common in places where cats are exposed to others, including shelters and boarding facilities. Since it is highly contagious, it only takes one cat to contaminate everyone.

The good news is that URI’s are very rarely fatal and generally resolve themselves in 1-3 weeks. Treatment generally consists of “supportive” care, but occasionally antibiotics are used for severe cases that have resulted in a secondary bacterial infection. Remember, just like humans, antibiotics are not effective treatment for viral infections. Just as in the common cold, you have to allow your pet’s immune system to cure itself.

 What are the signs of URI?

  • Clear or colored nasal discharge

  • Sneezing

  • Red/inflamed conjunctiva

  • Ulcers/sores on the nose, lips, tongue or gums

  • Fever/lethargy/loss of appetite (these may be signs of many other diseases as well)

What do you need to watch for?

  1. Pneumonia: URI’s can often result in more serious problems such as pneumonia.

  2. Starvation: When cats can’t smell, they won’t eat, so it’s important to make sure your cats are all eating enough or additional treatment may be called for.

  3. Dehydration: Sick kitties may not be interested in drinking or eating, and can often become seriously dehydrated. You can “test” for dehydration by gently pinching the skin of the scruff or shoulder and releasing. If the skin falls back into place without slowing, your kitty is probably doing okay on fluids. If the skin does not return to its original position immediately, your kitty needs veterinary care immediately.

How contagious is URI and can your own pets contract it?

URI is contagious to other cats. Most cats are vaccinated against it (it’s part of the standard yearly vaccination program recommended by most vets). However, the vaccine is not 100% protective, so it’s a good idea to isolate cats that are showing signs of the disease, and wash hands after handling sick cats. (In general we recommend isolating all new arrivals in your household for 8-10 days after adoption, to give them a chance to settle in and make sure they are not coming down with anything.) URI is not contagious to people or other animals with the exception of ferrets, who somehow seem to contract the infection. As this is an airborne virus, it’s important to keep ferrets and cats separated from one another, and be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after and before handling each species.

How can you care for a cat with a cold?

Mild cases of URI can often be treated at home with supportive care.

  • Provide the cat with a familiar, warm, quiet place to rest.

  • Make sure your kitty is eating. When cats get stuffy noses, they can’t smell their food very well and may not want to eat. Offer them smelly, canned food such as fish flavored canned cat food. Warming it up can help bring out the aroma.

  • Gently clean the cat’s nose and eyes with a soft cloth moistened with warm water.

  • If the cat is congested, use a humidifier or put the cat in the bathroom and run hot water in the shower for a few minutes a couple of times a day. Moderate to severe congestion if often a sign of a secondary bacterial infection, so contact your veterinarian to discuss treatment.

  • If any medicine has been prescribed, be sure to give the full course of antibiotics as directed, even if the symptoms seem to have gone away.

  • If you have any questions, contact your veterinarian.

When should you contact a veterinarian?

With lots of rest, many cats will recover from mild URI in one or two weeks. Sometimes cats need additional help, however. If your cat exhibits any of the following, contact your veterinarian.

  • Not eating for more than 24 hours.

  • Green or yellow discharge from the nose or eyes (your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics for this).

  • Difficulty breathing, especially panting or breathing through an open mouth.

  • Depressed or unresponsive cat: A slight decrease in activity is expected, but if your cat is lethargic or much less active than you would expect, contact your vet.

  • Vomiting or diarrhea that lasts more than 24 hours.

  • Little or no improvement after a week of home care

Treatment Sheets Developed by the UC Davis Shelter Medicine Program

In response to frequent inquires, we have developed treatment and observation sheets for cats with Upper Respiratory Infections. You are welcomed to download these sheets for your use in your organization or to serve as an example of a treatment sheet for you to use as a model to help you to develop your own sheets tailored to your needs. These sheets are intended to be printed double sided and used a single case form that can be hung on the cats cage or kept in a binder in your treatment area. Click photos to download!

Davis University Treatment Sheet 1 URI

davis University Treatment Sheet 2 URI


  1. Thanks for information.
    many interesting things

  2. Отличный блог, интересное и полезное содержание!

  3. Have a cat that had become feral after being abandoned several years ago–he has been living with us for about two years, but is still very resistant to being held or transported to a vet-type situation.
    Has contracted a URI a few days ago–seemed to recover–now has suddenly regressed about 18 hours ago with need for total rest, strained breathing, sore throat with licking his lips, no interest
    in food or water–keeping his head up to humidifier and currently resting on my bed.
    If he has a secondary infection–what antibiotics might would be safe for him to try (if bacterial)–can it be obtained overnight express from on-line pharmacy, and what would be the best delivery method (pill crunched up, or liquid into mouth???), since even trying to get him to a vet is a strain to his system due to his personality.
    Am looking today (Sunday the 12th–Toledo, OH) for a local vet who may make a house call??? (if it’s done at all still).
    Will humidifier close to him help fend off dehydration as well as ease breathing?
    Thank you for your time and professional suggestions (very much!!!)–Sincerely, Dave at 5:30 AM

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: