Feline upper respiratory infections

Black and white cat

Feline Upper Respiratory Infections (URIs) are infections of the sinus and nasal passages of cats. They can be caused by viruses or bacteria, though viral infections are much more likely. URIs are comparable to flus or colds in people. A cat with one of these infections will normally clear all clinical signs within two to three weeks. 

Sneezing, clear nasal discharge, and watery eyes are all hallmarks of this disease. In more severe cases, cats can develop colored nasal discharge and eye or oral ulcers. The most important things to monitor with this disease are your cat's appetite and ability to breathe comfortably. 

Feline URIs are highly contagious. They can travel through the air via droplets from sneezing or by direct contact. People can even act as a carrier of this disease between cats. This is why animal shelters and boarding facilities are all highly vigilant for this disease. Animal Humane Society makes every attempt available to us to keep our cats healthy (vaccinations, disinfecting cages, isolating symptomatic cats). However, because many cats enter our shelters already silently carrying viruses that lead to illness, vaccines are partially effective at best, and specific treatments are limited. The most common URI causes are very difficult to control in a shelter environment.

Other details

  • URIs have an incubation period of one to two weeks. This means that a kitten that looks perfectly healthy today can come down with a cold just days later. 
  • URIs can spread to other cats in your home. To reduce the risk of disease transmission, we recommend separating the new pet from your existing pets for the first several days. Additionally, wash your hands after handling your new pet to keep the risk of spreading infection to a minimum. Please note we cannot assume liability for the health of your other pets. Any treatment they may need would be at the adopter’s expense. 
  • URIs can sometimes be severe enough to warrant medications. If this is the case, all doses must be given as directed. Oral antibiotics are the most common medications needed, but sometimes nasal drops or eye medications are also indicated. 
  • If your new pet is being treated for an upper respiratory infection, Animal Humane Society has provided you with enough medication to complete the current prescription. If additional medication is required or if a veterinarian recommends further diagnostic tests (X-rays, blood work, cultures, etc.), the new owner will assume financial responsibility.

Please see your veterinarian promptly if you think your cat has an URI.

  • Under the post-adoption medical treatment policy, we can dispense antibiotics, as prescribed by your veterinarian, within 14 days of adoption.
  • AHS cannot reimburse you for the cost of care at your local vet clinic.
  • You have the option to return your pet within 60 days if you don’t wish to treat its URI. We certainly hope, however, that you will make the commitment to your pet and see them through this normally mild, treatable disease. 

Wash your hands after touching any animal to prevent the potential spread of disease!