Airborne Cat Diseases

Is it just a sneeze or something more?
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It’s hard to tell if your cat’s sneezing, coughing and nasal discharge mean a simple cold or virus that will work through her system, or something more serious. Many of the diseases cats are susceptible to share the same symptoms. Because of this, the only way to know what she has is to take your cat to the vet for a diagnosis.

Feline Infectious Peritonitis

Feline infectious peritonitis, also known as FIP, is an extremely dangerous airborne disease that has high death rate, but fortunately few cats contract it. Households with more than one cat, and catteries, are more prone to the disease. What is especially troubling about this disorder is the ease with which it is spread. Your cat can contract it through particles in the air, infected feces or any surface that has been exposed to the virus, including human clothing. Once she is exposed the virus takes one of two forms: wet or dry. The wet form consists of symptoms like fever that won’t go away, lack of appetite, diarrhea, trouble breathing, runny nose and lack of energy. The dry form has symptoms such as fever, diarrhea, jaundice, eye inflammation, anemia and loss of coordination. FIP is hard to diagnose because it resembles many other airborne diseases. A vaccination is available. If you’re concerned about your cat contracting this disease, talk to your vet about the vaccine.


Cryptococcosis is an infectious disease caused by yeast-like fungus that your cat inhales. She becomes exposed to the spores through soil contaminated by bird droppings. She is more likely to develop an infection if her immune system is already compromised, but cats that are otherwise healthy can still get cryptococcosis. Symptoms include mucus or bloody discharge from the nose, sneezing, coughing and difficulty breathing. Other signs are coordination problems, seizures and potentially blindness if the fungus reaches her brain. Oral antifungal medications are given and the outcome is much better if the disease is caught early.

Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis

Another airborne virus is feline viral rhinotracheitis, also known as FVR or cat flu. It is caused by the feline herpes virus 1. FVR is one of the main causes of upper respiratory disorders in cats and is easily transmitted from cat to cat, but not to humans. The symptoms are similar to those of other upper respiratory illnesses: mucus discharge from the nose and sneezing. In young kittens and older cats it is possible for the virus to inflame the eyes. Some vets are using L-lysine to slow the infection, and will treat your cat based on her symptoms. Annual vaccinations include one for FVR; however, the shot doesn’t guarantee that your cat won’t contract FVR—only that if she does, the virus will not be as severe.


Also known as an intestinal virus, reovirus disrupts your cat’s ability to absorb nutrients by destroying cells in her intestines. The virus is contracted either through inhaled contaminated particles or through contact with infected feces. Minor symptoms of the disease include mild diarrhea and inflamed gums; more serious signs are upper respiratory problems, eye inflammation, muscle tremors and problems with balance. Your vet will run tests to verify the diagnosis and treatment is aimed at the symptoms. Because reovirus is usually not life-threatening, no vaccines are available.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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