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Kitty Cat Colds - URIs and How to Treat Them

Updated: Mar 8, 2022

Imagine if you will -

You've just adopted your precious little kitty and brought them home! Perhaps you got them from a breeder or a shelter - maybe from a friend or even off the street! Either way, you are now the proud owner of a cat that you plan on loving and cherishing for the rest of your days!

You introduce them to your home, feed them a healthy diet, and offer them everything their kitty heart could ever want all in an effort to give them the best life possible.

But after a few days, you start to notice things have changed. Perhaps they have started sneezing or maybe their eyes have a bit of gunk in the corners, but one thing is for certain; they are looking a little under the weather! You begin to panic - your mind goes to everything you've done since they arrived home and you start to research every illness under the sun to find answers. How could this happen? What went wrong?

Were they sick from the beginning, and no one told you? Did they get into something they shouldn't have when you weren't around?

Whatever will you do?

As terrible as this story might sound, this is an extremely common situation that most all adopters face when they bring home their feline friends!

The good news? This whole horror story is not as bad as you might think! While it may sound as though you're about to face down a sickness like no other, the simple truth is that you are going through something most all cat owners can relate to.

In this article, we will be introducing you to the world of URIs and helping to ease your worries about the first few weeks of your cat adoption story! So, keep reading on as we delve into what makes the virus tick, what the symptoms and treatments are, and how you can help prevent it from showing its ugly self in the future!

Where Did It Come From? Where Does It Go?

No matter where you acquired your new feline family member, there is one thing that you can be almost certain of. Your kitty has the feline herpes virus.

"But how?" I hear you ask. "Where could they have caught such a thing? What terrible conditions did they endure to cause this illness?"

The short answer? They were born with it.

Feline Herpes virus ( also known as feline viral rhinotracheitis, upper respiratory infections, or FHV-1 ) is usually passed from mother to kitten, whether it be through simple genetics or through the bacteria in their milk during nursing. In the rare case that this virus is not passed down when they are kittens, they're also extremely likely to be exposed simply by being around other cats. This sneaky little germ makes its rounds quickly and efficiently and does its best to leave no cat untouched if at all possible!

As humans, we hear the word "herpes," "viral," or "infection" and often feel a need for panic. After all, they sound awfully serious, don't they? But in truth, this virus is so common that most anyone who works with larger cat populations can notice the symptoms and signs of it within moments of it beginning to manifest.

No matter the breed, age, gender, or conditions a cat may have been brought up in, one should generally work under the assumption that this illness is lying dormant in the system of their kitty cat companion.

The downfall of this virus is that there is no definite cure to be found and will come and go as it pleases. Feline Herpes virus can be most easily compared to the human cold in how it never truly goes away, but rather appears sporadically based on the condition of the immune system and environmental factors. That is why it is most commonly seen during the first few weeks after a cat is adopted and brought into their new home as stress and anxiety can weaken the defenses of your feline friend and make them more susceptible to the virus overall.

But how will you know? What should you be watching for?

Have no fear, fellow feline fanatic, because it's time to break down the symptoms and give you the knowhow to combat this sneaky sickness!

Symptoms to Sneeze At

So, what can you expect from a sickness that does as it pleases? What sort of signs should you be watching for?

The most common time for a cat to exhibit signs of a URI is usually during the first few weeks of finding their new home. This is due to the underlying stress of changing their environment and getting them settled into an unfamiliar space.

Keep in mind, just because your kitty seems to adjust quickly and without issue doesn't mean that they aren't feeling stressed or anxious about the whole affair! New kitties (especially ones coming into homes with other animal friends!) will take time to properly come to terms with their new lives and it's the stress of it all that weakens their immune system and causes the symptoms to appear.

Other situations can include anything from a visit to the vet, guests staying over, separation anxiety, and changes to their home or usual environment. Remember, cats are very sensitive to their surroundings so be sure to take into account their reaction to sudden changes in their daily routines! Cats crave stability and routine and even changes that may seem insignificant can have a large impact on their wellbeing!

But what should you be looking for? What will symptoms look like if they begin to appear?

Symptoms commonly seen include:

  • Discharge from the eyes (often green or yellow, but sometimes clear)

  • Runny or stuffy nose

  • Lethargy

  • Lack of appetite

These symptoms can come in stages or all at once depending on the progression of the virus and may become more severe as days goes by. Generally speaking, these symptoms will subside in 7 to 10 days assuming that you keep the cat comfortable and keep them as stress free as possible throughout the duration of the illness.

Of course, you should be sure to keep a careful eye on your kitty as the virus makes it's way through their system and once again becomes dormant. Just like colds in humans, URIs can be uncomfortable for your kitty friend and ensuring that they get extra TLC will go a long way in helping kick the symptoms into submission!

In the most common of situations, these symptoms are most severe toward the middle of the infection and gradually decrease as time goes on, but if it seems like they are not progressing normally you will definitely want to take them to the vet for a quick check up. URIs can often come with a secondary bacterial infection which a veterinary will likely prescribe antibiotics to help suppress so if you're looking to be extra cautious about your cat's health, make an appointment and get a professional opinion!

Other less common symptoms that can arise include:

  • Ulcers or inflammation of the mouth

  • Redness or puffiness around the eyes

  • Itchy or irritated skin

  • Fevers

If you notice any of these secondary symptoms, be sure to see your vet as soon as you can in order to start a regime of antibiotics or immune boosters to help ease your cat's discomfort and get them on the road to recovery faster!

Prevention Priorities

Now that you know what to look for and what to expect, let's talk about how to prevent a URI from spreading and the steps you can take to help your kitty on the road to recovery!

Remember, a lot of treatment options rely mostly on keeping your kitty comfortable and free from anxiety and stress so get ready for a lesson in good bedside manner for your feline patient!

Let's start by addressing any other animals living in your household!

Feline Herpes virus and URIs can only be spread to other cats making it a nonzoonotic illness. Because of this, you should have no fears when it comes to human family members, canines, rodents, or any other species that may live in your home! However, limiting exposure to your other cats should be top priority while your kitty cat is recovering!

As most shelters and breeders will tell you, it is important to keep new cats separated from their kitty companions for at least a week after they arrive home. This process isn't just for making sure the introduction to their new roommates goes smoothly, but also to prevent any potential virus from being spread when they first arrive home. While your kitty may seem healthy and happy in the first few days, this is the time when a URI tends to shed and the virus becomes contagious. Isolating your newest cat friend will help keep your current cat friends from catching anything that may be brewing under the surface as your adoptee adjusts to their new environment.

The most common way of spreading a URI is through contact with saliva or mucus and as cats spend a lot of time rubbing their faces on surfaces and other creatures, you'll want to take extra care to wash your hands between contact with one cat and another during the initial introduction phase to your household. Put your new kitty in a room all their own and wait at least a full week before starting introductions to other cats.

Not only will this help prevent stress from a sudden and abrupt meeting, but it will also give you time to watch for symptoms and prepare should you need to start treatment.

As tempting as it may be to let your good-natured kitties become fast friends, this buffer time between adoption and introduction will help save you from having more than one sick kitty to look after in the long run.

Treatment and Time

Our kitty is quarantined, our focus is set, now it's time to get started on treatment!

Whether your vet has decided to prescribe antibiotics or not, you will likely be on recovery detail to help your new friend feel their very best as they get some much needed R and R.

But what is there that you can do? You're not a vet, right?

Well the good news is that you don't need a degree to help your kitty start to feel better!

Starting off simply, you can buy an immune supplement at just about any pet store to give your cat's defenses a much-needed boost! L-Lysine powder is a special supplement made to increase the capabilities of an animal's immune system and can be given to them daily whether they are sick or not! Most shelters will agree that a little lysine powder in the morning meal for animals goes a long way in keeping them healthy throughout their stay and it is widely available without a prescription of any kind!

Speaking of things that don't need a prescription, some vets will also recommend the use of terramycin ointment when the symptoms begin to appear. Should you see things like watery eyes or the start of some sneezes, terramycin ointment can be used to nip a URI in the bud before it even has the chance to cause problems! This special little goo is readily available at most farm supply stores as well as through your vet and simply requires a small bead of it applied to the eyes of the animal 2 to 3 times daily to ward off any bacteria that may be present.

This generally only works if you catch symptoms early though, so be ready to rock with it as soon as you can if you want to keep this gross virus at bay!

But let's assume that your symptoms are here and causing trouble for your kitty companion!

Now you'll be looking more toward supportive care rather than preventative care so we'll be focusing more on helping your cat feel comfortable and less on trying to stop the sickness from the start!

Get your cat's quarantine space ready with plenty of healthy food (perhaps even something with extra nutrients!), water, litter box, and a cozy bed to sleep in! You'll want to make sure they are kept warm and cozy so if you have a heating pad, they aren't likely to turn up their nose! If there is anything that your cat loves, bring it in to help ease their stress and give them the extra TLC they need! It's okay to spoil them and pamper them during this time as, the more relaxed they are, the better they will feel!

Next, you'll want to try and keep their face clean and clear of mucus and discharge. This will mean getting a warm compress and wiping their nose and eyes from time to time (which your cat might be averse to, but if they will let you, it will go a long way!) Oftentimes, the mucus build up in the nose will prevent them from smelling their food and a cat that can't smell often won't eat!

Remedy this by keeping their airways as clear as you can or by heating up the smelliest cat food you can find to help them catch a whiff and get the munchies!

Should the congestion in your cat worsen, you can help alleviate discomfort through the use of a humidifier once a day for 15 minutes. A vet may also be able to recommend a nebulizer treatment to help your cat breath, so be sure to ask if you feel it might be helpful!

Overall, your goal is to keep your cat's essential needs functioning so make sure they are warm, fed, and hydrated and you should see results fairly quickly! Keep in mind, your kitty is feeling crummy just like you would if you were sick! Give them some love and they'll respond in kind!

Recovery Is in Sight!

While a URI may sound scary, the road to recovery is always well within sight! Knowing the signs, symptoms, and how to handle them when they occur will always be the most beneficial thing a cat owner can do for their kitty and we're glad we could help you dig up some knowledge to help you through!

Just remember, the kitty cat cold is more common than you think, so as long as you provide a home that's stable, stress free and comfortable for your new friend, you shouldn't have to deal with it very often! And even if you do, you'll know what you need to kick it to the curb!

Have no fear and carry on! Recovery is just a little love away!

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This is such a GREAT article. I can't tell you how much of a relief it is on my mind, now. This occurrence is such great worry to many that have seen distemper kill innocent pooches. Unfortunately, I have a new litter of five sisters and one brother, and it appears that they all have this now. I did go to the vet with much worry about the first one, a few days ago, where she did give me a tube of Terramycin. She showed me how to administer it as she drew a small strip along the pet's entire lower eyelid. The gel stays well in place. On three of the kittens, it seemed to 'nip it right in…

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