Upper respiratory infections (URIs) are no fun, but your kitten can make a complete recovery with proper medical care. These infections are highly contagious, so they are big problems for animal shelters and households with multiple cats. The risk of secondary infections is one of the main dangers of URIs.
There is no single pathogen to blame for respiratory ailments in cats, although feline herpes and feline caliciviruses account for over 80 percent of them, according to Manhattan Cat Specialists. There is a pretty large group of viruses and bacteria that cause similar respiratory distress symptoms, so they are collectively described as URIs. In some cases, especially in kittens from shelters or catteries, there is more than one URI-causing pathogen causing symptoms. If a mother cat has a URI, you can be sure that her babies do too. Kittens catch diseases from their mom when she cleans and nurses them.
If your kitten does have a URI, chances are it will be pretty obvious. Constant sneezing, a runny nose and persistent coughing all are classic warning signs of a respiratory infection, according to the ASPCA. Your kitten also may lack a healthy appetite, which is alarming for new pet owners. Watch newborn kittens carefully to make sure they are actively nursing. Not eating also weakens his body, making him tired and lethargic. If your kitten is over a month old, try tempting him with canned tuna or wet food if he rejects dry meals.
Primary respiratory infections usually are due to viruses, because they are more likely to establish themselves in healthy cats than most bacteria. Bacteria tend to cause secondary infections that set in once your kitten's immune system is weakened from a viral infection, although bacteria can be responsible for the main respiratory infection, according to the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine. URIs also can open the door for nonrespiratory secondary infections, like skin diseases and digestive ailments. Kittens are more likely to suffer infections than healthy adult cat's because their young immune system hasn't had time to develop antibodies against common ailments. Secondary infections actually can be more dangerous than the primary infection.
Prevention and Treatment
So what can you do to cure your kitten and prevent URIs in the future? Make an appointment with a vet as soon as you notice any URI symptoms. Adult cats can withstand an illness for weeks, but young kittens are much more fragile. Newborns suffering from malnutrition and other symptoms of infection may only last a few days. Vets often prescribe antibiotics to kittens with URIs, even if a virus is responsible for the disease. The antibiotics bolster the kitty's immune system against opportunistic invaders that try to take advantage of your cat's weak health. Keep your sick kitten separate from your other cats, including litter mates and mother if they aren't infected, until he's recovered from the URI. Always consult an experienced veterinarian regarding the health and treatment of your pet.
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.
Quentin Coleman has written for various publications, including All Pet News and Safe to Work Australia. He spent more tan 10 years nursing kittens, treating sick animals and domesticating semi-feral cats for a local animal shelter. He graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in journalism.