Respiratory Infections and The Common Cold

Cats can get upper respiratory infections or what we call the common cold or flu. However you can not pass a human cold on to your cat and vice versa. The cat ‘cold’ is a completely different cup of tea. If your cat has any of the below symptoms for more than a day or two he/she probably has an upper respiratory infection.

Upper respiratory infections are extremely contagious (infection can be passed through an airborne contagion or through casual contact) and it is very common for all cats within a household to become infected quickly. Although most of the agents that cause URI do not survive very long (from a few hours to a few weeks) in the environment, they can last a very long time in the cat’s respiratory tract in a latent or potent form. Many cats actually will carry the agent in their body for the duration of life. In such a case your cat may suffer from occasional flare-ups when stressed or when the immune system is weak. Such a cat may also pass the agent on to other cats (even if that cat isn’t actively sick). Cats can get URI’s for a variety of reasons just as people do. These reasons can range from:

  • a bacteria or virus (Chlamydia, Feline Calicivirus, Feline Herpes virus also known as Feline Rhinotracheitis Virus) a majority of UTI’s are caused by a virus
  • a parasitic worm infection
  • an allergic reaction

Symptoms to look for:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Discharge from the nose or mouth
  • Respiratory problems
  • Oral ulcers
  • Conjunctivitis (discharge from the eye)


If you suspect any sort of “cold” take your cat to the vet immediately for an examination. Although URI’s are not terribly serious, your cat can get secondary infections during this time period which could be more serious and can lead to chronic illnesses. Many cats with a cold will also have their appetites suppressed. Cats who do not eat for even just a day or two can be at risk for hepatic lipidosis, which can be a very serious illness. The bottom line is that although a cold in and of itself is not terribly serious, that left untreated, it can turn into a serious illness.

Most cases of URI are taken care of with a course of drug therapy (antibiotics, decongestants, antivirals), rest, lots of food and liquids. Humidification of the nasal passages may also help your cat, you can do this by purchasing a humidifier for the room or bringing your kitty in with you for a nice steaming in the bathroom. However, do not allow your cat to catch a ‘chill’ if you do get him/her wet.

If you do have a cat that has been on therapy for a few weeks and is still not feeling better, or if your pet has finished his/her course of medication and is still ill your vet may have him/her in for another visit to do some more tests. These may include X-rays of the skull which allow you to see the nasal cavity and frontal sinuses. This can help you determine what, if any damage the infection has done to the nasal passages. A nasal flush can also be performed to collect matter from the nasal cavity. This matter can then be analyzed to better determine what is causing your cat to be ill.

Precautionary measures:

Keep your cat indoors and away from other sick animals. Keep your pet in a clean environment which includes clean food and water bowls and a clean home. Keep your home above 70 degrees and if your cat gets wet either dry him off or make sure he stays warm while he dries off. You can also talk to your vet about yearly vaccinations to ward off such infections.