Severe Congestion in Cats

Severe congestion can be dangerous if left untreated.
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A kitty cold can make your feline friend feel lousy. Unfortunately, most cats will experience congestion in their lifetime. As a cat guardian, it's important to know the causes and the treatments of the most common kinds of severe congestion.

Why Congestion is Dangerous

Severe congestion can be dangerous for your feline friend. If a cat can't smell her food, she won't eat it. Most dry foods have very little smell, so a cat with severe congestion will almost always stop eating kibble. Even some canned foods won't have enough of a tempting smell to break through the congestion. If your kitty doesn't eat for more than 24 to 36 hours, it's time to take action. After 24 hours of not eating, a cat is at risk of developing hepatic lipidosis, which is also called fatty liver disease. Without aggressive treatment, hepatic lipidosis can be fatal. Prevention is always better, which is why it's so important to get your cat to the vet quickly if her congestion is so severe that she won't eat.

Viral Causes of Severe Congestion

The most common reason that your cat may have a severely stuffy nose is a viral infection. Up to 90 percent of upper respiratory infections in cats are caused by one of two common viruses: feline herpesvirus (also called rhinovirus) and calicivirus. These two nasty bugs are easily transmitted from cat to cat, so most cats have been exposed to them. The most common annual cat vaccine, the FVRCP vaccine, includes a vaccination for both herpes and calici, but most cats already have the virus even before they have their first vaccines. In times of stress, the viruses will take over and cause your cat to develop a horrible cold, which often includes severe congestion. Unfortunately, antibiotics don't really help a viral infection, so you'll have to provide good supportive care while the virus runs its course, usually seven to 14 days.

Bacterial Causes of Severe Congestion

While viruses cause most kitty colds, some severe congestion is caused by bacterial infections. The most common bacterial agent is chlamydia, which is very easy to spread from cat to cat. These persistent bacteria generally affect cats' eyes, making them painful and irritated. But chlamydia can also cause severe congestion and even pneumonia. Unlike viruses, which just have to run their course, chlamydia can be treated with antibiotics. If you suspect that your feline friend may have been exposed to chlamydia at some point in her life, have her tested at your veterinarian if she develops any symptoms of severe congestion or conjunctivitis.

Care for Severe Congestion

Regardless of the cause of the congestion, your cat will need your help to get through a kitty cold. The most important thing you need to do is to encourage her to eat and drink. If your cat isn't eating well, try feeding her canned tuna or mackerel packed in water or bits of fresh rotisserie chicken. If she isn't drinking enough water, try adding a few drops of tuna juice or chicken stock to her water dish to make it tastier. You might also try a cat water fountain or leave a faucet dripping, as most cats prefer to drink from a moving water source. If she is really stuffy and having trouble breathing, have her hang out in the bathroom with you when you take a hot shower or keep her in a room with a humidifier for 10 to 15 minutes a few times a day.

If your cat has chronic congestion as a result of feline herpes, ask your vet about adding L-lysine to her diet. L-lysine is an amino acid which makes the virus reproduce slower. L-lysine is safe to use on an ongoing basis and can help keep outbreaks under control. While L-lysine isn't as effective in managing calicivirus, it is still a good supplement to give your cat.

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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