We see a lot of new cats and kittens in the spring and summer, which means we see a lot of sneezing cats with weepy eyes. Cats and kittens may sneeze for a number of reasons including bacterial or viral infections, irritation to the mucous membranes, allergy and foreign objects within the nose. Discharge from the eyes (or weepy eyes) can also occur for many reasons; bacterial or viral infections, injury, foreign objects within the eye and allergy. By far the most common cause of both eye discharge and sneezing in the young cat is an upper respiratory infection caused by Feline Herpes Virus. Feline Herpes Virus is highly prevalent within the cat population with approximately 80% of cats infected with Herpes virus, although many may not show any signs of infection. Cats at risk of showing signs of infection are those with immature or compromised immune systems, cats from a shelter environment, outdoor cats and those that live with more than 1 or 2 other cats. Many new cats and kittens come from a shelter environment or have an immature immune system which explains the higher incidence of upper respiratory disease in these animals.
Signs of infection:
In addition to sneezing and discharge from the eyes, infected cats may display discharge from the nose, coughing, corneal ulceration, ulcers within the mouth, lack of appetite and lethargy. The signs shown by any individual cat depend on the severity of infection and whether or not there is concurrent infection with other viruses or bacteria.
In mild cases of Upper Respiratory Infection a tentative diagnosis is made based on history and physical examination. In more severe cases further diagnostics are often required to rule-out other causes of illness. Diagnostics tests may include baseline blood work, FIV/FeLV testing, swabs of nasal or ocular discharge for viral and bacterial testing and possibly radiographs to look at the lungs.
Most cases of Feline Upper Respiratory Infections will run their course within 7-10 days without treatment. Cases with concurrent bacterial infections may need antibiotics to help speed along recovery. A Lysine supplement can help to speed recovery from Herpes virus infections. In severe cases cats may require hospitalization with intravenous fluids and assisted feeding if they are lethargic and not eating.
Prevention of upper respiratory infections in cats is three pronged – vaccination, supplementation and avoidance.
The kitten vaccination protocol contains vaccines for common viruses that cause upper respiratory disease in cats. Kittens should receive 3 inoculations beginning at 6-8 weeks of age spaced 3-4 weeks apart. Re-vaccination is every 1-3 years depending on lifestyle and the type of vaccine used.
Cats or kittens known to be infected with the Herpes virus can be given a lysine supplement daily or when signs of infection are noticed.
Once infected, cats are infected for life; however, episodes of overt disease can be avoided. Cats that are not infected can be protected by following these same avoidance strategies.
- Cats should be housed in uncrowded situations with less than 3 cats total per household.
- Stressful situations should be kept to a minimum.
- Keeping cats inside will lower their risk for upper respiratory infection.
If you have any questions, if your cat's sneezing cold is lasting more than 10 days or if your cat's behaviour is affected (lethargic, not eating), please don't hesitate to call your veterinarian.