Kitty colds are feline upper respiratory infections. As with humans, most kitty colds are caused by viruses and run their course in 7 to 10 days. During that time, you can make your cat more comfortable and help him get healthy.
Causes of Kitty Colds
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Kitty colds are similar to most human colds, as most are caused by viruses. The majority of feline upper respiratory infections are caused by one of two common viruses: feline herpesvirus (feline viral rhinotracheitis) and calicivirus. Almost every cat has been exposed to these viruses, and most are carriers. However, not all cats will develop an illness, although some cats will have chronic respiratory symptoms.
Make Breathing Easier
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When cats have stuffy noses, breathing may be difficult and labored. Your cat may breathe with his mouth open or have labored breathing as he struggles to get enough oxygen. If your cat has a slightly stuffy nose, try taking him to the bathroom when you take a hot shower or put him in a room with a humidifier to help loosen the congestion. If your cat is having difficulty breathing, you should take him to a veterinarian as quickly as possible. While most kitty colds aren't fatal, a cat struggling to breath may be facing a life-threatening condition.
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Cats have a keen sense of smell, and one of the most important ways they use that sense is to be sure food is safe to eat. If a cat has a stuffy nose, she can't smell her food, and generally won't eat at all. During a kitty cold, your cat may not only refuse her regular food, but even special canned or fresh foods. It is critically important that your cat does not go without food for more than 24 to 36 hours. Try a bit of canned mackerel or tuna, fresh rotisserie chicken or meat-based baby food to encourage her to eat. If she still refuses after 36 hours, a trip to your veterinarian is in order.
Fluids are Critical
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Cats can quickly become dehydrated when fighting a respiratory infection. Cats do not have a strong thirst drive, and have evolved to get most of their water from food. When a cat has a stuffy nose and won't eat, their water intake also diminishes dramatically. Encourage your cat to drink by adding a few drops of juice from a can of tuna or from low-sodium chicken stock. You might also try changing the type and number of water bowls available or adding a pet water fountain. If you cat does not drink on his own for 24 hours, you need to give him water in a syringe or take him to your veterinarian for fluids.
Antibiotics for Secondary Infections
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Cats with viral respiratory infections often also develop secondary bacterial infections. Because the rate of secondary infection is so high, veterinarians often prescribe antibiotics when your cat has a cold. Antibiotics will also help if your cat's respiratory infection is caused by agents responsive to antibiotics, such as chlamydia or bordatella.