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What to Know About the Feline URI

Upper respiratory infections ("colds") are the most common cat disease. In fact, the feline distemper vaccine protects for the most common and widely recognized forms, although there are new viruses and bacterial infections being evolved constantly. As a cat owner, you should be aware of some facts about these infections.

What to Know About the Feline URI

What is an upper respiratory infection? Commonly abbreviated URI, these are often highly contagious diseases spread by airborne viruses. The incubation period is approximately three to seven days from exposure to the first obvious symptoms. Sneezing, eye discharge and nasal discharge characterize a URI. Depending on the virus causing the disease, signs may last from a few days to a couple of weeks. Most viral infections cause the same feelings in cats that the cold does in humans: lethargy, lack of appetite and occasionally a fever. Although a serious infection may develop into pneumonia, this is rarely the case – breeds with short nasal passages, such as Persians, seem to be the most severely affected. Also, as with the common cold, a URI can affect the cat's resistance, making him/her more susceptible to other secondary infections. Observe your cat closely to avoid any complications.

How is it cured? Just as with the common cold, it must run its course. Your veterinarian will prescribe antibiotics to prevent secondary infections or to fight a bacterial infection. Wiping any discharge from the nose or eyes will help keep your cat more comfortable.

Do URIs occur only in the boarding situation? No, since these viruses can be present anywhere and can travel for long distances through the air, they can affect any cat ... even one at home on the windowsill. Any cold is more likely to occur where the concentration of cats is greater, such as cat shows, animal shelters, veterinary offices and pet shops as well as in boarding situations.

Are these viruses a constant problem? No. URI, like the flu, is often seasonal. It also tends to be epidemic. When a veterinarian begins seeing cases, they normally come from any cattery in town as well as from the pet stores, shelters and individual owners. Once an outbreak has run its course, another case may not be seen for months.

Why doesn't the vaccine protect the cat? The feline distemper vaccine protects against the most common forms of upper respiratory infections (also called herpes viruses). As with the common cold, there are hundreds of varieties; mutations of the viruses constantly occur as they themselves adapt to their environment. Vaccinating against every form would be impossible. Your veterinarian can recommend a vaccine program appropriate for your cat.

Can the kennel prevent my cat from being exposed to a URI? Unfortunately, no. No amount of supervision, sanitation or personalized care can prevent a cat from catching an airborne virus. All that a good boarding kennel can do is require immunization records, refuse to board an obviously sick cat and watch for signs of illness, the most obvious being sneezing and sniffles. Longview Boarding & Grooming, LTD will quickly segregate any infected pets and seek medical attention to help prevent further spread of the disease. You have a right for your cattery to provide the best possible care, just as the cattery has a right to expect you to accept financial responsibility for such care. Your Pet Care Services Association member is devoted to your pet's well-being.

[Information obtained and reprinted from the Pet Care Services Association, c. 2008]