As our beloved pets grow older, they're subject to some deterioration in their health and we're subject to heightened vigilance -- wondering if it's a cold, or cancer. Most problems are neither. Familiarity with basic cat respiratory issues can help you relax while you get Kitty appropriate treatment.
The Dreaded H Word
You know what they (don't) say: If it looks like a cold, it's probably herpes. Most upper respiratory infections in cats are officially cases of feline viral rhinotracheitis, or FVR -- cat herpes.
Don't be alarmed by the stigma-loaded name -- your kitty won't be telling you he caught it from the toilet seat. Pretty much every mammal is plagued by its own brand of herpes, spread all sorts of special ways. FVR is spread like the common cold -- and no, you can't catch it.
Most cats catch it as kittens and have repeat episodes if they're stressed, re-exposed, or as their immune systems decline with age. FVR can also cause an autoimmune condition where the body attacks the cells lining the respiratory tract (which looks a lot like an FVR flareup and is treated the same way). There's an FVR vaccine and your kitty probably received it, but it doesn't prevent all infections and many kittens are exposed before they receive the shots, anyway.
If your kitty has the hallmarks of a bad cold -- congestion, snotty sneezes, gummy eyes and nose, honking throat noises -- it's probably FVR. Your vet may recommend an antiviral and will prescribe antibiotics if your kitty's at risk for pneumonia.
Lymphoplasmacytic rhinitis is a fancy way of saying your cat has an inflamed, swollen, painful nose. If your kitty has severe nasal inflammation without other cold-like symptoms, he may end up with this diagnosis. It's almost always older cats who suffer from the baffling LR. Your vet may prescribe a course of steroid medications if LR is messing up your pet's quality of life.
Allergic rhinitis looks like LR, only with a discernible cause: allergies. Sinus-inflaming allergies are pretty rare in cats, but they do happen, and your vet can tell if they're happening to your cat by looking for specific kinds of cells in his inflamed nasal tissues. If she finds them, treatment's a matter of identifying the allergen and eliminating it from your precious pet's environment.
A Case of the Icks
They're a lot rarer than FVR, but cats do sometimes get fungal, bacterial or mycoplasma (the name means "fungus-like bacteria" and it's considered a special kind of germ) infections in their respiratory tracts.
These yuckies usually move in when your cat's defenses are already weakened by an FVR infection or flare-up. Your older kitty is at greater risk than he was in his prime, since his body's less able to fight invaders off. Age-related conditions like diabetes and cancer also raise the risk of these infections.
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.
Angela Libal began writing professionally in 2005. She has published several books, specializing in zoology and animal husbandry. Libal holds a degree in behavioral science: animal science from Moorpark College, a Bachelor of Arts from Sarah Lawrence College and is a graduate student in cryptozoology.