Upper Respiratory Infections in Cats

What is an Upper Respiratory Infection (URI)?

URI is a common problem among shelter cats.  Many have URI when they enter the shelter, and the infection is easily spread among cats.  The increased stress of being in the shelter can make cats more susceptible.  Kittens, ill cats, and those that haven’t been previously vaccinated are at an even higher risk of getting a URI.

URI can cause the following signs

  • sneezing
  • eye or nose discharge
  • congestion
  • fever
  • lack of appetite and energy
  • increased salivation
  • inflammation and/or ulceration affecting the mouth, nose, or eyes

If you notice any of these signs, it is important to have your cat examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible.  He/she may prescribe medication to help treat the infection.  Cats that are otherwise healthy usually recover from URI in about two weeks, but occasionally it can progress to pneumonia, which can be life-threatening.  If you notice labored breathing or coughing it is essential to have your cat examined by a veterinarian right away.

Kitten with URI

Treating URI


Tender loving care and supportive care are also very important in hastening recovery from URI.  Kittens, geriatric cats, and those with concurrent medical conditions will need extra nurturing.  Seemingly small measures can go a long way in helping your cat feel better.  Gently wipe away nose and eye discharge with a warm, damp washcloth.  Provide a warm, comfortable and quiet place for your cat to rest.  Closely monitoring your cat’s behavior is important because cats often try to disguise how sick they really are.


Also pay close attention to your cat’s appetite for food and water.  URI can make cats reluctant to eat for various reasons.  Consult a veterinarian if your cat has a poor appetite, since it may need treatment for dehydration or other conditions.  If your cat needs encouragement to eat, try hand-feeding canned kitten or cat food that has been slightly warmed.  (Pureed meat baby food can also be offered as long as it doesn’t contain onion powder – read the ingredients carefully.)


Congested cats may not eat because they can’t smell their food.  Using a vaporizer or placing the cat in a steam-filled bathroom for a few minutes a day can help clear congestion.

Vaccinations & Isolation

Remember that URI is transmissible among cats.  Affected cats may still be contagious several weeks after recovery.  Making sure that all other cats in the household are current on their vaccinations and isolating cats while they’re showing signs of disease will help prevent the spread of URI.

Other Resources

Thank you for giving a homeless cat a good home.  We’re especially grateful to those willing to invest a little extra energy into nursing sick cats back to health. Your efforts will be rewarded many times over with loving companionship.