We call them cat colds, and they can make our pets feel miserable. Even my dear little old lady cat, Seren, had a bout with an upper respiratory infection.
This past month seems to have been a bad one for human sneeze attacks, and pets are not immune. Neither the Magical-Dawg or Seren-Kitty have ever had problems before until Seren began sneezing in mid-August.
What I thought must be a transient allergic reaction in Seren turned into a summer “kitty cold” that had her waaaay under the weather. She’s sixteen, so she had me very worried since those old-lady-cats tend to get sick quicker and take longer to recover. Cat colds not only make pets feel miserable, they can be a sign of a wide range of health problems.
For more information about cat colds and dog coughs, see this post.
What Are Kitty Colds?
Upper respiratory infection, caused by several different “bugs,” often affects cats. Some of these are related to the common human cold virus (a herpes virus), but people don’t catch colds from their pets (or vice versa). Cats catch URI from other infected cats, and the agents that cause kitty congestion usually aren’t lethal in adult cats. They can be caused by viruses or bacteria and rarely fungus, leave the cat with crusty nose and eyes and even painful mouth and eye ulcers. Yuck! Another problem is if the nose gets stopped up, kitties won’t eat unless she can smell her food, so sick felines potentially can starve if they get a stopped up nose.
Seren’s Sneezles & Upper Respiratory Infections
Seren’s sneezles started out with bursts of three or four at a time over a period of two or three days–and then seemed to go away. But over a period of five or so days, I noticed one eye seemed to water a little with a bit of clear drainage on that side of her nose—and then THAT seemed to go away.
But the next weekend, bam! The eye still watered clear tears, but her nose (on just that side) clogged with cloudy “schtuff” that choked her when she tried to eat or drink. Of course, she came down with the “shnorkles” over the weekend when my regular vet was closed, but first thing Monday morning, we visited the veterinarian.
…but No History of URI
Kittens that become infected with URI often have recurrences throughout their life during times of stress. Proper vaccinations can prevent infection altogether, or (depending on the causative agent) reduce the signs of illness if the kitty does get sick. Seren had all of her vaccinations as a kitten, and yearly thereafter received the standard “boosters” up until she was about eight years old. At that point, I followed the advice of feline vaccine experts Dr. Ron Schultz and Dr. Richard Ford (gathered from personal interviews for some of my books), who stated by age four after regular boosters the healthy cat without exposure to other cats usually should have virtually life-long protection.
So since she’d never had issues, was an “only cat” and indoors exclusively without exposure, I continued her “wellness exam” vet visits (VERY IMPORTANT!) but I stopped vaccinating her except for rabies (required by law). Did this put her at risk for infection? Have these experts changed their opinions? Do I need to re-think this? Perhaps.
Seren’s Treatment for her Cat Cold
So what was Seren’s treatment? She doesn’t interact with other kitties, so how did she catch cold? Be aware that “bugs” can be carried to your pet on your hands or clothes (or from the dog!) from contact with viral or bacterial agents. Did Magic make her sick by roaming our property and tracking in something from the environment?
The veterinarian suspected a couple of things that in combination seemed to have conspired to make Seren sick. First, the eye/nasal discharge was only on one side so it might be an infected tooth. Sure enough, the affected side of Seren’s gum was quite inflamed.Oh no! Maybe she’d developed a resorptive lesion, described in my Aging Cat book and in the great video, below.
But she didn’t have a temperature (thank goodness!), so the vet thought it might also be a nasal infection that started from an allergic reaction. We had recently changed cat litter, and the new product had a much stronger aroma and dust associated with it than the previous product.
The doctor explained that the nose is the perfect “petri dish” for infections to brew, being moist and warm, with ample opportunity to sniff in foreign material. A conservative treatment was recommended, and Seren given an injectable long-lasting antibiotic and a steroid-type drug (that lasts 4-6 weeks) to counter the inflammation, while we monitored how she reacted. Thankfully, Seren responded very quickly and within five days was back to her loving, dog-pestering self!
Cat Cold Relapse?
Well, not really, but kinda-sorta-in-a-way. Over the past weekend Seren sneezed again. A couple of times. And then on Wednesday (yesterday), she did a repeat of that 4-5 “achoos” in a row. OH NO, that’s the way it all started. The Covenia injection must have worn off (it lasts about two weeks). So day before yesterday (Wednesday) I planned to call the veterinarian.
Before I got the chance, Magical-Dawg got sick. Hoo-boy, what the heck is going on? Magic does his “patrol” around the property with my hubby every morning, and upon their return, we all have our breakfast together. This time, the dawgie had no interest in food–seemed fine on his ramble, but once inside suddenly felt bad, had the trembles, wouldn’t put weight on his left foreleg. When I checked, his shoulder seemed tender, so I gave him a small amount of buffered aspirin for the pain. But an hour later…that paw had swelled to double normal size. Off to the vet we went…(stay tuned for details about Magical-Dawg next week! yes, I’m a tease…and he’s fine now…)
While there, I talked to the doctor about Seren. Based on the signs I described, he believed it likely is a URI, and that kitties often harbor the virus all their life with no signs–until something stresses the immune system. He didn’t believe it was her teeth based on the most recent exams. She’s old. Maybe allergies started it off, and the virus flared. Anyway, he prescribed another injection of Convenia to ward off possible secondary infections, and I gave her the shot when I got home. So for now, it’s still a wait-and see.
What You Should Do for Cat Colds
Only your veterinarian can diagnose the cause of your pet’s discomfort, and prescribe the best treatment. You can relieve symptoms with these cat cold tips.
Preventive vaccinations can help protect cats from these common illnesses. If you share your life with more than one cat, or interact with other cats outside the home, show cats, or otherwise there are exposure opportunities, re-vaccination as advised by your vet is vital. Today the recommended interval for boosters is every three years, although Drs. Ford and Schultz have stated that immunity may last 5 to 8 years–but you don’t know which pets have longer or shorter duration of immunity.
How often do you have your cats vaccinated? Do you use titer tests to measure the kitty’s immune status before vaccinating? There’s a great new product called VacciCheck for Dogs that can measure your pet’s immune status but it’s not yet available for cats. We don’t know for certain what caused Seren’s problems–there’s a reason they call it the “practice” of medicine, LOL!
What would you do in Seren’s case?
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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!