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Feline Upper Respiratory Infection (URI)

If your cat develops signs of URI within the first seven days of adoption, please contact OCACS at 714-935-6848 Monday – Sunday 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.  If you have questions after hours, contact your local emergency clinic. Any and all financial expenses incurred after adoption are the sole responsibility of the new pet owner.

Similar to the common cold in humans, this disease is common in cats that have been exposed to other cats, such as at a shelter. Signs of URI include sneezing, runny nose, red or runny eyes, sores on the tongue, lips, nose, or roof of mouth, fever, anorexia, and decreased energy. 

URI is contagious to other cats. It is a good idea to isolate cats that are showing signs of the disease, and wash hands after handling sick cats. (In general, we recommend isolating all new arrivals in your household for 8-10 days after adoption, to give them a chance to settle in and make sure they are not coming down with anything.) URI is not contagious to people or other animals.

URI is very rarely fatal, and usually resolves within one to three weeks. Treatment is generally supportive. In addition, antibiotics are sometimes given to treat possible bacterial infections. However, although secondary bacterial infections can make the problem worse, the underlying cause is often a viral infection. Viral infections are not cured by antibiotics – as with the common cold, there is no completely effective treatment besides time and allowing the cat's own immune system to do its job. In rare cases, URI can cause serious disease such as pneumonia. Also, sick cats may not eat or drink adequate amounts and may become severely dehydrated. In such cases, hospitalization and fluid supplementation may be needed.

  • Provide the cat with a quiet, warm place to rest.
  • Gently clean the cat’s nose and eyes with a soft cloth moistened with warm water.
  • Make sure the cat is eating. When cats get stuffy noses, they can’t smell their food very well and may not want to eat. Offer smelly, wet food such as fish flavored canned cat food. Warming it up often helps.
  • If the cat is very congested, use a humidifier or put the cat in the bathroom and run hot water in the shower for a few minutes a couple of times a day.

First, it is important to state that every animal adopted from a shelter should be taken for an examination by your regular vet within at most 3 days of adoption. With rest and good care, many cats will recover from mild URI in one or two weeks. Sometimes cats need additional help, however. If your cat has any of the following signs, contact your veterinarian.

  • Not eating for more than 24 hours.
  • Green or yellow discharge from the nose or eyes (a vet may prescribe antibiotics for this).
  • Difficulty breathing, especially panting or breathing through an open mouth.
  • Depressed or unresponsive cat: a slight decrease in activity is expected, but seek vet care if the cat is much less active than usual or than you would expect.
  • Vomiting or diarrhea that lasts more than 24 hours
  • Little or no improvement after a week of home care.