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