Feline infectious respiratory disease

Black and white cat

Feline infectious respiratory disease, also called 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. Infectious respiratory disease is 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 infectious respiratory diseases 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 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 causes are very difficult to control in a shelter environment.

Other details

  • Infectious respiratory diseases 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. 
  • Infectious respiratory diseases 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. 
  • Infectious respiratory diseases 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 infectious respiratory disease, Animal Humane Society will provide 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 infectious respiratory disease. 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!

What should I do if my new pet starts showing these signs?

Please see your veterinarian for further medical care. Medications and further care are not always needed, but that distinction should be made by a veterinarian.

Make sure you see them ASAP if any of the severe signs above are seen. Please be aware that any costs incurred with an outside veterinarian would be your financial responsibility.

How can Animal Humane Society help?

AHS can fill medications at no cost with a prescription from your veterinarian; however, we cannot reimburse for medications an adopter already chooses to fill at their vet.

The animal must be seen by a vet within 14 days of adoption, and we can fill up to 1 month of medications that we keep in stock. Please contact us early in the process so that we can help as best we can.