Feline Upper Respiratory Infections

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    If you have ever had or currently have a cat, you may have dealt with some upper respiratory issues. We have all been there; sneezing, coughing, congestion, runny nose/eyes, and lethargy. Some cats even become febrile and anorexic because they feel so ill.

The most common cause of upper respiratory disease is Feline Herpes Virus (FHV). This is typically passed from queen to kittens at an early age, or between housemates with constant exposure to each other. Just as in Herpes Viral Simplex in humans, the upper respiratory signs caused in cats are generally mild and transient, but can occasionally be a precursor to more severe problems. Sometimes the virus can remain dormant in the body for years. Often, cats with feline herpes virus are those chronic snufflers that are always sniffling and sneezing or have watery eyes. During periods of stress, such as remodeling the house, or holidays with company over, the immune system becomes weakened and the signs become worse. L-Lysine used daily or pre-emptively in these times of stress can reduce the chances that of a secondary bacterial infection. It helps to keep the FHV under control. During these periods of stress, often bacterial secondary infections occur. There are multiple preventable viral causes of upper respiratory disease such as Feline Rhinotracheitis and Calicivirus. Simple vaccines can lessen, if not prevent disease caused by these viruses.

Once a secondary bacterial infection sets in, cats can become so congested and febrile that now they quit eating and drinking. When it is hard enough just to breathe, the last thing a cat wants to do is to try to eat or drink. Just like when we are congested and febrile, cats feel so lousy that they don’t want to do anything. While L-Lysine may help to minimize signs of upper respiratory disease due to viral causes in cats, it is not going to be a benefit with bacterial causes. At this point, your cat will likely be telling you they don’t feel well by a lack of appetite, being cranky, or just unwilling to do much of anything. It’s time to start the humidifier or close your cat in the bathroom while you take a nice steamy shower. The moist air will keep the mucous moist and less viscous so that it can drain more easily. Also, this is the time to have an exam, start on antibiotics, and rule out pneumonia. If your cat develops pneumonia, plan on a hospital stay with IV fluids, IV antibiotics and possibly some lab-work and radiographs to make certain that other organ systems are not becoming involved. Sometimes, these become chronic problems which are frustrating to treat.

Once a cat develops a chronic upper respiratory problem, there are other issues that have to be addressed. Is it due to a severe case of periodontal disease? Is there an oropharyngeal or otopharyngeal polyp? Has this become a case of bronchitis? These are a few of the possibilities that must be considered. If the mouth becomes a sewer of bacteria causing halitosis and periodontal disease, there is a possibility of it causing a secondary upper respiratory infection. The only way that this is going to be cleared up is by addressing the underlying periodontal disease. A polyp can form in the retro-pharyngeal region and cause problems with swallowing as well as breathing. These are usually inflammatory and can sometimes be resolved with medications, but often need to be surgically removed.

So now that we know that these “simple” colds are not always so simple, then maybe it should not be taken for granted the next time we hear a cat sneeze or cough.


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