Respiratory Infections in Cats

A coughing, sneezing kitty needs your vet's intervention.
i Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images

Respiratory infections are common in cats, so it's likely your kitty may end up with one at some point or another. Respiratory infections in cats range from mild to severe, but they aren’t likely to be fatal -- though your kitty should still see your vet right away.


Symptoms of a respiratory infection in your cat are a lot like those you’d expect if your cat had a cold. In fact, one is pretty much the same as the other in terms of how your kitty is affected. In most cases he’s going to do a lot of sneezing and coughing, and he’ll probably have runny eyes and a runny nose to go with them. Chest congestion is common with a respiratory infection, and your pet may have rapid, shallow breathing or may seem to struggle to get enough air. Such a condition can easily turn into pneumonia if you don’t treat it.


Two viruses are responsible for most feline upper respiratory troubles. According to information provided by WebMD, as many as 90 percent of all contagious respiratory infections in cats are caused by either feline herpesvirus or calicivirus. Less often, bacteria such as bordatella or chlamydia cause respiratory infections. Cats living in crowded situations such as shelters and boarding facilities are commonly exposed to some or all of these diseases. The germs are transmitted when the cats sneeze or cough on each other, or when kitties use contaminated dishes.


Your pet’s first line of defense against feline herpesvirus, calicivirus, bordatella and chlamydia is proper vaccination. Feline viral rhinopneumonitis and rhinotracheitis are different names for the same thing; they're caused by the herpesvirus. Both the rhinotracheitis, chlamydia, calicivirus and panleukopenia (RCCP) vaccine and the feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus and panleukopenia (FVRCP) vaccine protect cats against these two common respiratory viruses. The RCCP vaccine also protects against chlamydia, while a bordatella preventative is given separately. Keeping your kitty indoors full time will help to protect him from upper respiratory illnesses by minimizing his exposure to other cats.


Once your kitty has contracted herpesvirus, he’s probably got it for life. That doesn’t mean he’ll always be sick, but the symptoms are likely to recur during times of stress. Some cats carry herpes without ever showing any signs of illness, while others may have chronically weepy eyes and frequent bouts of sneezing. When your pal is showing symptoms, your vet can help by prescribing antibiotics to ward off secondary infections and medicine to make him more comfortable in general. If he’s really sick, your kitty may need to be hospitalized and treated with intravenous fluids and supportive care.

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.

the nest