Respiratory Illnesses in Kittens

Respiratory illnesses are more serious in kittens than in adult cats.
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Kitten sneezes may look and sound cute, but they can be a sign of a potentially serious respiratory illness. If your kitty exhibits cold or flu symptoms, such as a runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing or coughing, bring her to the vet right away. A delay in care could be deadly.


A respiratory illness in kittens may be caused by viruses, fungi or bacteria, but it's most often caused by one of two viruses: feline calicivirus and feline herpesvirus. Both of these viruses are highly contagious and generally spread by sneezing, infected nasal or ocular discharge, and contaminated water bowls and litter boxes. Kittens are at greater risk of contracting respiratory illnesses than adult cats. They are also considerably more likely to die from the condition, according to WebMD.


If your kitten is sick with a respiratory illness, she'll likely show several general symptoms, regardless of what virus or bacteria is causing her illness. Most infected cats suffer from sneezing, runny eyes and nose, and loss of appetite. If herpesvirus is to blame, your kitten may also experience lethargy, fever, drooling and eye ulcers. If your kitty has calicivirus, she may develop lameness and oral ulcers. Other causes may produce additional symptoms.


If your cat is very young or very sick, your vet may want to keep her for one or more days for close monitoring and professional care. In most cases, though, you can care for your kitty at home until she recovers. Keep her calm and in a quiet environment and run a humidifier in rooms where she spends a lot of time. This will help keep her nasal passages hydrated. If she is coughing or congested, sit with her in a steamy bathroom for about 15 minutes every few hours. Also, keep eye and nose discharge off her skin to prevent irritation, and make sure she is getting plenty of water. If she refuses to eat or drink or if she seems to be getting worse, call your veterinarian. You vet may also recommend supplementing with L-lysine if your kitten tests positive for feline herpesvirus, and she'll need antibiotics if her respiratory illness is bacterial.


Because many cats infected with respiratory illnesses carry the responsible viruses or other pathogens without exhibiting symptoms, identification and isolation of infected animals is difficult. For this reason, you must assume that all unfamiliar cats are infected unless proven otherwise. Keep your kitty indoors to prevent exposure to infected animals, isolate cats for at least two weeks after bringing them into your home and vaccinate against leading causes of respiratory illness early in life. Proper hygiene, which includes good ventilation in living spaces and cleaning potentially contaminated surfaces with a diluted bleach solution, is also helpful.

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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