Upper respiratory infection (URI) is the equivalent of the common cold found in humans. For most of us a cold is no big deal and we know it will last a week or so and we'll feel miserable but, most likely, it won't kill us. In felines, however, it can be much more serious and, if left untreated, can even lead to death, especially in very young kittens and senior cats whose immune systems might not be as strong. URI is a very contagious virus for which there is no cure, but it's important to understand that it is not a death sentence for your kitty as long as they get the supportive care they need. It's crucial you pay attention to the symptoms and call your vet so you can get your kitty treated right away. With antibiotics (for treatment of secondary infections) and plenty of nourishment and TLC at home, your fur baby should recover in a couple weeks. And, if you're lucky, their immune system will be stronger because of it.
Symptoms of URI:
watery or runny eyes
In severe cases:
loss of appetite
sleeping more than usual or hiding
If you've adopted a kitten or cat from a shelter, they will most likely have an upper respiratory infection or they have had it and recovered in foster care. After all, they were living in close quarters in a stressful environment. Just like humans, animals' immune systems are weakened by stress and therefore they become more susceptible to disease and will start exhibiting some or all symptoms mentioned above. Even if your new kitty seems healthy at the time of adoption, it is possible they'll start showing signs of URI shortly after going home. Please don't be alarmed- this is common and it is treatable. As part of your adoption commitment you must be willing to be extra caring and patient with your little one while he/she recovers. Be mindful that they are in pain and they are dependent upon you to make them feel better and get healthy again.
Things you can do at home after visiting a veterinarian:
MAKE SURE THEY EAT- This is extremely important! Cats and kittens need nourishment in order to overcome the sickness and to heal. IF he/she stops eating on their own, you will need to help them eat by using a needleless syringe. You can feed them KMR (kitten milk replacement), chicken baby food, canned kitten food (blended until smooth enough to go through a syringe) or any combination of these. See below for an instructional video about syringe feeding. Refer to our kitten feeding guide for help with how often and how much to feed orphaned kittens or those who can't nurse.
KEEP THEM QUARANTINED- Keep your sick one(s) isolated from your other cats. (It's perfectly fine for sick littermates to recover together- it helps to have a friend around when you're not feeling good.) A quiet, comfortable, easy-to-clean spot is best. Bathrooms work well as long as there's room for a soft,warm place to sleep and the litter box is not near the food or water bowls. Also, it's a room you're guaranteed to visit several times a day so you can check in on their progress and give them some much-needed love.
KEEP THEM CLEAN- If they have a runny nose or runny eyes, gently wipe their face with a soft, warm, damp cloth (baby washcloths work well) several times a day. They can't blow their little noses like we can and when kitties are not feeling good they stop grooming themselves. This will help them breathe better and it will remind them of their momma's touch. Also, sick kittens may be too weak to make it to the litter box so they will need clean bedding at least daily. Disposable pee pads might come in handy and can be placed next to their bed.
HELP THEM BREATHE MORE EASILY- If they're having trouble breathing, you can put a large humidifier in the room with them. This will help loosen some congestion and keep their airways moist. Or try placing a small humidifier next to them (putting them in a crate works well) and drape a towel or blanket over them and the humidifier so they can breathe in the humid air; 5-10 minutes a few times a day should do it. If you don't have a humidifier, at least take showers in that bathroom or run hot water in the shower for 10-15 minutes- any kind of steam is helpful. Administering nasal saline drops as a decongestant can also help, but be absolutely sure there's no other medication added to the saline. See the how-to video below.
KEEP THEM MOVING- Encourage the kitty to move and play. Bring some toys into the room and play with her/him. If anything, it will lift their spirits. Try not to over do it though; if they are severely ill, sleep or rest might be what they need most.
FINISH THE PRESCRIBED MEDICINE- Don't discontinue the antibiotics! If your vet prescribed medication (oral antibiotics, eye ointment, etc.), make sure you complete the entire course. It's possible the symptoms will go away before they are done taking the medicine, but don't let this stop you from administering it. If the course of antibiotics is not completed, any infection that was there can re-emerge and can possibly become worse.
Easy & safe syringe feeding tutorial for sick cats and kittens
Sick cats can lose their appetites, especially if they are suffering from an upper respiratory infection and have a stuffy nose.
Using pureed meat baby food and a needless syringe, you can easily help your sick cat or kitten get the nutrition they need.
Simple treatment for kitten or cat nasal congestion using saline drops
Kitties with upper respiratory congestion can get really "stuffed up" and here's an easy at-home treatment using plain saline to help them loosen up a stuffy nose.
A kitten that is congested will gasp for breath, have trouble sleeping, and most dangerously, refuse to eat. Help them get things moving along until the "kitty cold" is gone!
For more information on helping your cat get through URI, click here.