Skip to content

Healthy Cats

Font Size

Feline Viral Respiratory Disease Complex

Feline viral respiratory diseases are highly contagious, often serious illnesses of cats that can spread rapidly through a multicat home, a cattery, or a shelter. They are one of the most common infectious disease problems a cat owner is likely to encounter. Although few adult cats die of upper respiratory disease, the death rate among young kittens approaches 50 percent.

Although these diseases are highly contagious among cats, they cannot be transmitted to humans. Cats also cannot catch our colds. This is because the viruses that attack cats do not affect humans, and vice versa.

Recommended Related to Cats

Cat Eye Care and Problems

Seeing “eye to eye” with your cat may be one of the best things you ever do for her health. A good home eye exam just before grooming can clue you into any tearing, crust, cloudiness or inflammation that may indicate a health problem. Here are few simple tips to keep your kitty’s eyes bright, healthy and on the prize-you!

Read the Cat Eye Care and Problems article > >

Recently, it has been recognized that two major viral groups are responsible for the majority of clinical upper respiratory infections in cats (80 to 90 percent). The first is the herpesvirus group, which includes feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR). The second is the calicivirus group, which includes feline caliciviral disease.

Other viral agents, especially those of the reovirus group, cause feline viral respiratory illness. They account for a minority of cases.

There are two distinct stages in the feline viral respiratory disease complex. The acute stage is followed by the chronic carrier state.

Acute Viral Respiratory Infection

There is considerable variation in the severity of illness. Some cats have mild symptoms, while in others the disease is rapidly progressive and sometimes fatal.

The disease is transmitted from cat to cat by direct contact with infected discharge from the eyes, nose, mouth; by contaminated litter boxes, water bowls, and human hands; and rarely, by airborne droplets. The virus is stable outside the host for as short as 24 hours or as long as 10 days, depending on conditions.

Clinical signs appear 2 to 17 days after exposure and reach maximum severity 10 days later. Illness begins with severe bouts of sneezing lasting one to two days. This is followed by conjunctivitis and watery discharge from the eyes and nose, which may suggest a cold or flu. By the third to fifth day, a cat exhibits fever, apathy, and loss of appetite. The eye and/or nasal discharge becomes mucoid or purulent. Cats with obstructed nasal passages breathe with their mouths open.

Further signs depend on the particular respiratory virus in question. A cat with herpesvirus develops a spastic cough. If the surface of the eye is severely inflamed, the cat may develop keratitis or corneal ulcerations.

In a cat with calicivirus, you may see ulceration of the mucous membranes of the mouth (stomatitis). This is particularly disabling, because the cat loses his taste for food and refuses to eat and drink. Drooling is common. Shortness of breath and viral pneumonia can occur. Secondary bacterial infection, dehydration, starvation, and rapid weight loss are all complications that can lead to death.

A diagnosis can be suspected from the clinical signs. It can be confirmed by isolating the virus from the throat or by specific serologic blood tests. Because these diseases are highly contagious, these tests are most important when the disease involves a cattery, a shelter, or a multicat household.

Today on WebMD

cat at table
What's safe for them to eat?
Maine Coon cat breed
What they do and why cats have them.
 
Kitten in litterbox
How to solve them.
cat meowing
Why some cats are so talkative
 
cat on couch
Evaluator
Kitten using litter box
Quiz
 
sleeping kitten
Slideshow
sad kitten looking at milk glass
Slideshow
 

Love your pets, hate your allergies?

Get tips for relief.

Loading ...

Sending your email...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.

Thanks!

Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

cat at table
Slideshow
muddy dog on white sofa
Quiz
 
Maine Coon cat breed
Article
Pets: Behavior Problems in Cats
Slideshow