Get an instant quote now and take the first step to protect your furry best friend.

» See My Rates

Retrieve Saved Quote

Pet Care. Pet Training. Pet Stories.
Refer a Friend & We'll Donate $25 Refer a Friend Now!
Pet Care. Pet Training. Pet Stories.
Refer a Friend & We'll Donate $25 Refer a Friend Now!

Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats

05/04/2017 by Colleen Williams
May 4th, 2017 by Colleen Williams

upper respiratory infection cats

Respiratory issues in cats are common, and the symptoms are very easy to spot. However feline upper respiratory infections (URI’s) can be a little more serious. URIs are typically diagnosed with a physical exam and/or radiographs, and then treated with antibiotics. If left untreated, your cat could get seriously sick and even develop pneumonia.


Just like humans, respiratory issues and infection start out with cold and flu-like signs:

  • Fever
  • Sniffling
  • Sneezing
  • Excess mucus
  • Coughing
  • General lethargy

Vets will also check for oral ulcers, sometimes caused by feline herpes (feline viral rhinotracheitis or FVR) and feline calicivirus (FCV), as recurring respiratory issues are sometimes indicative of those diseases. The infection can be highly contagious, so kittens, with underdeveloped immune systems, are particularly susceptible to the illness.

Diagnosis and Treatment

After a kitten came into the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SF SPCA) shelter, they discovered he was suffering from a viral respiratory infection (common in shelter cats and kittens). They treated him with the typical medications and he got a little better, but his symptoms were still present. “We did cultures and examined his nose and throat under anesthesia, but still couldn’t identify the cause of his stuffy nose,” says a representative of the organization. Several weeks passed before the kitten was adopted and went to his forever family; they noted that he continued to be sick and brought him back to the hospital for care. More blood tests were done and they came back inconclusive, which was quite frustrating for the kitten’s family as well as our staff. The SF SPCA then received a new Vimago HD CT scanner, a machine capable of imaging an entire patient in a single series, and can fit even very large dogs. The kitten was one of the very first patients to be scanned, and they quickly spotted that the infection was similar to that of a fungus called Cryptococcus. “We did a test specifically for that, which came back positive, and we finally had our answer. We were able to start [the kitten] on the proper medication and now he has now recovered!” 

Vets now have human-grade tools that can determine whether your cat has an upper respiratory infection that can be quickly treated with antibiotics, or if it’s something more serious like pneumonia or complications from existing illnesses, or like the kitten above – something even more rare. The standard test requires a sample of your cat’s eye discharge, and if symptoms do not clear up, they may also do an x-ray or a CT scan if they suspect pneumonia-related fluid in the lungs. Bacterial infections require antibiotics prescribed can be either oral or eye drops, while fungal infections have different medicines.If your pet is diagnosed with pneumonia, you can expect more intense treatments such as hospitalization for multiple days, oxygen therapy, and IV antibiotics.The recovery period can be as long as six weeks for all sorts of respiratory issues.

Giving your kitty the best chance of a full recovery can be expensive. Having pet insurance can help cover the cost (as much as 90%) of these spontaneous infections that can set your cat back a few weeks.