Diagnosing And Treating Upper Respiratory Infection in Shelter Cats

Author: | Posted in Health No comments
Shares 0

Watery eyes due to URI

Upper respiratory infection is a very contagious and potentially deadly disease in cats due to the symptoms it can cause and at the rate it can spread from cat to cat. Each cat responds to this disease in a different way. Some cats may go downhill fast and completely refuse to eat while other cats may not seem impacted at all for the entire duration of the illness. It is important to do a full physical examination and come up with a treatment plan for each cat that is infected.

Physical Examination and History

A detailed history and physical examination by a veterinarian or a trained kennel technician will be the best way to tell if a cat has has been infected with upper respiratory infection or if they only have allergies. A thorough physical examination will include testing their respiration rate, heart rate, temperature, and their ability to breathe without trouble. Your veterinarian will observe your cat’s body systems for any discharge, inflammation, lethargy, lack of appetite, sneezing, coughing, and so on.

If you are testing the cat yourself, you will want to use a glass slide that you can hover over the cat’s mouth or nasal passages to see if he is breathing correctly. A thermometer and a stethoscope can be used to test his temperature and respiratory rates. Use a tissue to check for any nasal discharge, eye discharge, or drooling.

The time it takes a cat to get over an upper respiratory infection will vary but tends to hover around 10 to 30 days long. Improvements are often seen 5 to 10 days following a supportive care plan being put into place. An infected cat will have to fight the infection for the entire course since there is no formal cure for upper respiratory infection. Specific drugs such as clavamox or clindamycin can be prescribed if your veterinarian diagnoses a bacterial infection. Antibiotics will help prevent the bacteria infection from turning into pneumonia.

Reduce Stress Level and Keep Kitty Happy

It is advised that you do not bring any healthy cats into your household for the entire duration of treatment. Make sure that you isolate the infected cat into a good sized room if you have multiple cats so you can avoid further contamination. Reducing stress is the primary focus of this treatment plan so the success ratio can be maximized. Increase accessibility to comfortable and low traffic resting areas. Provide plenty of scratching pads and beds for the cat to use while they are isolated. Setup multiple eating stations and drinking locations in the event that the cat does not feel well enough to move around.

Consider enriching the environment that your cat spends the most time in after successful treatment. The stress level will decrease for every fun thing that you add into the house which will decrease the probability of recurrence. The addition of vertical space such as shelving units or cat towers tend to their innate desire to be high up and able to watch their territory.

Water fountains, track ball toys, puzzle feeders, catnip mice, and other fun toys can help keep the environment interesting. Interactive play times should be held 3-4 times a day and last 15 minutes each time. These play sessions should include a feather toy or wand toy that is used to bond with your cat and facilitate his need to run and catch moving prey. I like to hide the toy behind and other objects, move it slowly then quickly, and slither it around like a mouse might so that I can mimic the prey catching experience.

I recommend setting up several scratching units around the house to facilitate their want to scratch and stretch. Shelters should also consider adding scratch pads, toys, and hammocks for decreasing the stress of caged cats. You can read more stress reduction strategies if you want to learn more about what you can do to decrease stress and why stress is a silent killer.

Supplements for Upper Respiratory Infection

Eye Ointment

Ophthalmic ointment can be administered to cats that are having difficulty with eye discharge or irritation. An infected eye can present as bloody, runny, or with discharge. an eye allowed to go too long without treatment can turn into an eye ulcer.


You can give a few drops of pedialyte every 10 minutes for cats that are starting to show signs of dehydration or lethargy. You will want to give this via a dropper since cats that are sick tend to not drink as much. The dropper will hydrate your cat faster than water because of the added electrolytes.


Nutrical is administered at the rate of 1.5cc per pound of body weight by mouth. This product helps increase appetite.

Pet Tinic

Pet Tinic is a black liquid that is given orally at 1cc per 10 pounds of body weight. Pet Tinic increases appetite.

Vicks Vaporub

This product can be applied onto the top of the nose to help open up the closed sinuses in very sick cats. Do not put it where you cat can directly lick it. This is a special trick that I learned from a veterinarian at the animal shelter I worked at.

Saline Drops

Saline drops can be applied to the nose for a supplement to help eliminate congestion.

Keeping The Cat Hydrated and Fed

Force feeding or hand feeding may be necessary for cats that will not eat on their own. Cats who do not smell will avoid eating. You can start by blending up a high calorie canned food like Iams or Science Diet until it is a liquid like consistency. This can be done with a blender or manually with a whisk. The Amount of water that is added to the canned food in order to make it possible to force feed will change depending on how watery the canned food is to begin with. Higher quality canned foods like Iams or Science Diet will need little water compared to the super market brands like Friskies.

Inside cats require about 25-30 calories per pound of body weight every 24 hours on average. Cats will need maintenance water which is also about 30cc per pound of body weight. These numbers can be used as a benchmark to determine how much your animal may need to remain healthy. You can feed about 1cc at a time, preferably in a small syringe so you do not give too much at at time which could potentially cause aspiration. You can keep the syringes in a warm bowl of water to keep them warm while you are feeding the cat.

Upper Respiratory - Heating up Food

Upper Respiratory – Heating up Food

Upper Respiratory - Treatment Kit

Upper Respiratory – Treatment Kit

I suggest heating up the food naturally since cold food can cause upset stomachs. You start by placing the canned food into a jello cup then placing that jello cup into a bigger bowl of hot water for 10 minutes or so. Using a microwave will likely zap the nutrients since it is not a natural way of heating up the canned food to begin with. I never recommend microwaves as a method of heating up canned cat food for a sick cat.

You can help your cat breathe better by opening up his sinuses with a hot shower. Turn on the shower then leave your cat in that same room for a few minutes while the shower is running and creating steam. The key is getting their sinuses to open up enough so you can feed and water them.

Medical Issues and Emergencies

A cat that does not eat or drink can suffer from hepatic lipidosis or dehydration after a couple days. This could quickly become a medical emergency. Hepatic lipidosis is a form of liver disease that occurs when the liver is forced to convert body fat into energy.

Veterinary hospitalization may be necessary if the severity of the disease increases. Intravenous fluids and a feeding tube may be required if the cat becomes very dehydrated or lethargic. Cats will rarely reach this stage or have their infection turn into pneumonia if you follow good care guidelines. Open mouth breathing, panting, and drooling are signs that you need to get your cat to the veterinarian right away.

You may decide to add an internet protocol camera into the treatment rooms so you can view them through the computer without the need of being there and being sneezed on physically throughout the day. An internet protocol camera is cheap and easy to add into an existing care plan. You can even view the camera through an app on your smart phone.

Cleaning and Disinfection

Disinfecting after each case of upper respiratory infection is crucial to maintaining a healthy cat population. You want to clean every item that an infected cat has sneezed on or touched. This list includes but is not limited to bowls, litter boxes, and toys. Read about how to completely disinfect your shelter after a case of upper respiratory infection.

You always want to allow disinfectant to sit for ten full minutes prior to rinsing and drying to make sure they are completely free of disease. You can use bleach at a dilution rate of one ounce of bleach to thirty-two ounces of water if a commercial disinfectant cannot be purchased under your current budget. If you do want to use a commercial disinfectant, I recommend Trifectant as a very cheap and effective disinfectant.

You need to scrub down all of the surfaces thoroughly with a dish soap mixture so that you can remove all the sneeze marks and organic matter prior to disinfection. Rinse the dish soap after scrubbing down each surface because dish soap can prevent disinfectants from working properly. Remember to clean all healthy cat items before you even attempt to touch sick cat items. Read my how to prevent upper respiratory infection article for more information.


Shares 0

Add Your Comment

Animal Shelter Education
amazing catr