Feline Upper Respiratory Disease - The "Permanent Resident Viruses" 

Upper respiratory diseases are probably the most common infectious diseases in kittens. Cats of all ages may be affected, although young and old animals are more vulnerable. The two most common viruses are Herpes Virus (Feline Rhinotracheitis Virus) and Calici Virus. Both viruses can affect cats simultaneously and tend to stay in the body forever. There is no known cross species/human transmission.

Herpes Virus causes more severe disease that involves the nose, sinuses, eyes, throat, tonsils, upper palate of the mouth and trachea. Affected cats develop severe sneezing, fever, depression, loss of appetite, nasal discharge, drooling, and swelling and redness of the eyes accompanied by discharge.

As the disease evolves, mouth and eye ulcers as well as pneumonia may develop. Severe disease in kittens may be fatal. The virus also causes abortion in pregnant cats. Secondary bacterial infections are common and many cats develop chronic sneezing and pussy nasal discharge. Most cats become permanent carriers as the Herpes virus resides in the body forever. These cats appear healthy (latent infection) but tend to develop flare-ups and shed the virus following stress of any kind.

Calici virus usually causes less severe disease. In addition to the eye and nose discharge, the virus tends to produce painful tongue and mouth ulcers. Some strains cause potentially deadly pneumonia and limping. Chronic gingivitis and tooth resorption are common lifetime problems. Calici virus also becomes a permanent resident in the body and cats shed it continuously.

Upper respiratory diseases are transmitted directly or indirectly (air borne). Crowded enclosures are the optimal environment for the virus to spread.  Outbreaks are inevitable with high inflow of strays and kittens.

Medical treatment of upper respiratory diseases is mainly supportive (cleaning the discharge, treating the eyes, hand feeding and fluid therapy). Antibiotics are given to prevent secondary bacterial complications.

Prevention requires a good vaccination program and an effective hygienic-sanitary management.

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