Respiratory diseases in cats

Respiratory diseases in cats

Feline respiratory diseases can be caused by different pathogens (microorganisms), but the symptoms suffered by cats with these conditions are very similar regardless of the agent that produces them.

That is why contagious feline respiratory diseases are included in veterinary medicine under the same name, Feline Respiratory Complex .

The main way to identify this process is through the symptoms it produces in cats, and in this article we explain what the characteristic signs are, their causes and treatment.

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What is the feline respiratory complex?

There are several pathogens (microorganisms) that can cause respiratory diseases in cats, and the symptoms that they will produce in the affected animal are quite similar regardless of the pathogen involved.

For this reason, veterinarians include all contagious feline respiratory diseases under the name of feline respiratory complex, regardless of the agent or agents that cause it.

Thus, the feline respiratory complex refers to the set of characteristic symptoms of a contagious respiratory disease caused by one or more pathogens.

Causes of the feline respiratory complex

Although the initial cause of contagious feline respiratory diseases are pathogens (microorganisms), other factors such as air quality or a decrease in the cat’s defenses due to stress are related to the severity of the condition or its worsening.

A variety of viral and bacterial pathogens have been identified in cats with respiratory disease, and combinations of two or more microorganisms often occur, exacerbating the severity of the disease .

The most common viruses in cats are calicivirus and feline herpesvirus. Within bacteria, Chlamydophila felis and Bordetella bronchiseptica are also potential pathogens of respiratory disease. Mycoplasma species are normal commensal organisms of the upper respiratory tract of cats, but some species can act as pathogens causing respiratory disease.

Other bacteria can accompany the viral or bacterial respiratory complex, such as secondary infections that worsen the disease.

What breeds of cat are affected?


As the feline respiratory complex is caused by contagious pathogens, acute manifestations are extremely rare in cats that live indoors without contact with other felines.

Thus, the risk of feline respiratory complex infection is a major problem in animal shelters, cats in open-air colonies, cats housed in kennels, boarding houses or cats that travel to shows.

Feline respiratory complex symptoms

The symptoms that occur in cats are very similar, regardless of the pathogen involved, and can range from mild to extremely serious signs, since the initial respiratory symptoms can be complicated by secondary bacterial infections or other viruses, leading to pneumonia.

The most common signs of the feline respiratory complex include:

  • Nasal skin
  • Sneezing
  • Tos
  • Eye discharge (legañas, conjunctivitis)
  • Ulcers on the lips, tongue, gums or nasal plane
  • Salivation
  • Fever
  • Inactivity
  • Lack of appetite

If the feline respiratory complex is not treated in time, the condition can worsen, affecting the lungs, and the prognosis will be less favorable. In cats with pneumonia it is common to observe fever , cough, sneezing, difficulty swallowing, breath sounds, difficulty breathing or rapid breathing.

Diagnosis of the feline respiratory complex

The clinical symptoms are suggestive of this disease and, although there are no truly specific signs of each particular causative agent, the presence of certain symptoms can offer a clue to the veterinarian as to which is the responsible pathogen.

Along with a complete physical examination, laboratory tests (with a blood sample or nasal secretions) can be performed to confirm the presence of certain microorganisms.

What is the treatment of the feline respiratory complex?

The treatment of the feline respiratory complex will be very similar regardless of the causative agent and is based on a supportive treatment with a lot of nursing care.

Cats with respiratory disease lose the urge to eat, often due to nasal congestion not allowing them to smell food and the pain of oral ulcers. For this reason, it is very important to frequently clean the secretions from the nose with physiological saline and offer very palatable food (warm cans in the microwave so that they emit more smell). Sometimes analgesia is needed to relieve pain in the mouth.

If the cat does not eat with these measures, the veterinarian will probe it with a feeding tube in order to maintain forced nutrition. Correct hydration of the cat must also be ensured, so in severe cases intravenous fluids are usually supplied in the clinic.

Antibiotics are an essential part of the treatment to treat the pathogen causing the disease directly or to prevent possible secondary bacterial infections (doxycycline, amoxicillin-clavulanic acid or azithromycin). Cats with eye injuries may require topical antibiotic eye drops or mydriatic treatment. For cats that develop pneumonia, supplemental oxygen may be required.

Antiviral therapies have also been considered for use in cats with feline respiratory complex (famciclovir, L-lysine, feline interferon omega).

How is the feline respiratory complex prevented?

The best protection to prevent feline respiratory complex is vaccination. It is very important to go to the vet to establish a good vaccination program, from the first weeks of the kittens’ life.

In addition, if we have a feline collective we must take additional measures such as:

  • Do not introduce new animals until three weeks after vaccination and carry out prior quarantine.
  • Isolate patients and possible carriers.
  • Disinfect surrounding surfaces.

Vaccinating our cat, maintaining a suitable environment where there is a minimum viral concentration and avoiding contact with possible sick cats, are the bases of the prevention of this disease.


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