Feline Upper Respiratory Problems

Many cats have chronic problems with upper respiratory congestion (runny or stuffy nose, nasal discharge) and/or conjunctivitis (inflammation of the eye membranes; the eyes may be red, swollen, watery, crusty, or goopy). Nasal or eye symptoms may be both be present, or you may see one without the other. Often, the problem comes and goes.

Causes include viral or bacterial infection, congenital defects (small or absent tear ducts), facial conformation (Persian features),  scarring from previous infections; and (rarely) allergies. But by far the most common cause of these symptoms in cats is infection with a Herpes virus. In cats, Herpes is an upper respiratory virus; it’s also called “rhinotracheitis” and is one of the components of the combination upper respiratory/panleukopenia (feline distemper) vaccine that most kittens receive. The vaccine does not actually prevent Herpes infection; its main function is to reduce the severity of the disease.

Nearly all cats are exposed to Herpesvirus as kittens. For most cats, no further problems occur. However, Herpes is a sneaky virus, and likes to lie dormant until it gets a chance to overwhelm the immune system. Because stress suppresses the immune system, cats under stress are particularly susceptible to recurrent Herpes flare-ups.

Herpes conjunctivitis is painful, and usually causes quite a bit of redness and a watery discharge. It often attacks only one eye, producing a lopsided squint. Cats tend to be photophobic; that is, they squint against bright light, or try to avoid it altogether.

There are several treatment options for Herpes. One of the simplest is l-lysine, an amino acid that is inexpensive and readily available at the health food store. It comes in capsules or tablets, usually 500 mg. Capsules are much easier to work with, if you can get them. The dose is 500 mg twice a day for 5 days (total 1,000 mg/day). Lysine has a slightly salty taste, and is easily disguised by mixing with canned cat food or baby food. If that seems like a huge dose for a cat, it is–but that’s what it takes to work. Once the acute episode is under control, a maintenance dose of 250 mg per day can be given indefinitely.

To relieve irritation and wash viral particles from the eye, you can make a homemade saline solution. Use 1/4 teaspoon of table salt to 1 cup of lukewarm water (slightly above room temperature). Three or four times a day, use a cotton ball to drizzle a small amount saline into the cat’s eyes. Make the saline fresh each and every time, because bacteria could grow in the solution between treatments. Or, try an herbal eye wash. Eyebright is an excellent for many eye problems; Halo Herbal Eye Wash is a two part rinse that includes eyebright, as well as infection-fighting goldenseal.

Homeopathy can also be helpful; try Newton Homeopathics Eye Irritation. Reducing stress with flower essences is also very beneficial.

Long-term nutritional support with immune boosting Omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants will also help prevent recurrences.

If symptoms worsen, or persist more than a few days, a check by your veterinarian is warranted. Herpes can cause serious corneal ulcers that may result in loss of vision if untreated.

7 thoughts on “Feline Upper Respiratory Problems

  1. Hi, just read your post and found it quite interesting. This wouldn’t be the same Herpes virus humans are capable of contracting, would it?

    Anyway, was just wondering about your opinion on these Clo Caps as a supplement. Of course it won’t act as a cure against the Herpes virus for cats, but can it add to their immune system to combat the virus?

  2. Hi, thanks for the good question! The feline Herpes virus is a distant relative of the human versions, but like most viruses (notably excepting rabies), it is not transmissible between species.

    Cod liver oil (CLO) is a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which have excellent anti-inflammatory and immune-building properties. Omega-3s also have a specific role in nerve cell integrity and function. Since Herpes virus likes to hide in the peripheral nerves, Omega-3 supplementation would be especially beneficial. I personally recommend Nordic Naturals cod liver oil because it does not contain added Vitamins A and D, which can be overdosed with some other sources of CLO.

  3. Where would I find CLo and how much and often would you give this to them? Im a new kitten mom and I dont know much thanks!

    1. hello my name is jade i am trying to help my kitty amriss fight her auto immune and allergies she has occationally along with upper respitory problem. i used vetri immune supplement which help for a long time but for last few months she been gettin allergies more and upper respitory stuff. i give her gel lysine which does help. she had colitis and the auto immune before all vet wanted to do is give her steriod shots tht crap just kill her and myself and her are fighters so i set out on my own to help her and i did. stop colitis and got auto immume under control myself vet would have just kill her w shots and waiting for more symptons and bring back for shot. no prevenative nothing.so i am looking for somthin better always so if u have somthing could suggest like that has lysine and immune support to and would help with allergies and symptons along with upper resporitory i would appreciate. just tryin to minimize what i give her into as little as i can u know condense so not everything seperate. easier on her and me.she doesnt have teeth only k nine so better in gel so give through syringe .or dropper in liquid. please email me freespiritalways14@gmail.com.and anythin i could gt really cheap i need help not working and dont want her to suffer cause no income. and i really would like to get also to route of problem so no more upper resp. problems. thanks so mch be waiting please respond asap

      1. Hi Jade, it sounds like your kitty is lucky to have found you! On lysine, the dose for a flare-up is 1000 mg per day, and maintenance is 250 per day. You can find it in capsules at any health food store and many pharmacies. As far as other products, you may want to look at our Immune Balance formula for moderating the immune response; antioxidants and Omega-3 fatty acids are also important to get any inflammatory process under control. You may be able to find help with veterinary bills here: http://www.animalcompassionnetwork.org/resources/1

  4. I purchased an alcohol free eyebright liquid extract….can I use that to make an eyewash for a kitten w/ conjunctivitis??? How would I do so??

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