feline health

Upper-Respiratory Infections in Cats

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Yes, it’s true. Our feline friends can get colds, too. As is the case for humans, bacteria or viruses are to blame.

The bacteria or viruses that most commonly cause upper respiratory infections (URIs) in cats are:

  • Feline herpesvirus type-1 (FHV-1), also known as feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR).

  • Feline calicvirus (FVC)

  • Bordetella bronchiseptica (B. bronchiseptica)

  • Chlamydophilia felis (C. felis)

  • Mycoplasma spp. (bacteria) or a feline respiratory, such as FIV or FeLV, also contribute to issues with upper respiratory infections.

Bacteria and viruses are very contagious and are present in the saliva and discharge produced by their eyes and nose. Healthy cats can get infected when they come into direct contact with a sick cat. Cats with retroviruses are especially vulnerable to the contagions, both through direct contact and indirect contact with contaminated objects.

Unfortunately, even seemingly recovered cats can still be carriers of the aforementioned diseases and unknowingly pass it on to other cats. Mother cats can also act as carriers, passing infections on to their litters.

Cats that have contracted FVR are considered “chronic carriers”, meaning they will carry the virus for life and can become sick again in times of high stress such as moving, new housemates, babies, etc. About half of the cats infected with FVC will remain infected as carriers, sometimes for a few months after the symptoms cease, and in rare occasions, for life.

Symptoms of Feline Upper Respiratory Infections

Some of the common symptoms of an upper respiratory infection in cats are:

  • sniffling

  • sneezing

  • clear to pus-like discharge from the eyes and/or the nose

  • coughing

  • lethargy

How long can Feline Upper Respiratory Infections last?

An infection typically lasts for 7 to 21 days. There is an incubation period, which is the time period from point of infection to when clinical signs become apparent, which spans 2 to 10 days. It is thought the incubation time is the time of highest contagion.

Diagnosing cats with a Feline Upper Respiratory Infection

The clinical signs and symptoms are typically apparent enough to make a diagnosis. However, diagnostic tests are required to determine the cause of the infection. Some of the tests your veterinarian may recommend are:

  • A complete blood count (CBC) to rule out blood-related conditions.

  • Chemistry tests to ensure your cat isn’t dehydrated or suffering from an electrolyte imbalance.

  • Urine tests to screen for urinary tract infection and other disease, and to evaluate the ability of the kidneys to concentrate urine.

  • Tests for feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).

Your veterinarian may want to run additional tests for cats with chronic upper respiratory infections, such as radiographs to evaluate the lungs and sinuses, cultures of cells, and microscopic evaluation of discharge.

Treatment for Feline Upper Respiratory Infections

Your veterinarian will determine the best treatment for your cat, which may include specific prescriptions and possible hospitalization, depending on the severity of the situation.

For more mild infections, other suggests of treatment may include:

  • Increase humidity within your house (such as a humidifier or short trips to a steamy bathroom several times a day)

  • Offer food that is appetizing to your cat, such as canned food, to encourage eating.

  • Clear the eyes and nose of discharge by wiping the eyes and nose with a moistened washcloth that can be properly washed and disinfected.

Prevention of Feline Upper Respiratory Infections

Vaccination can protect your cat from the most common causes of an upper respiratory infection (FVR and FVC).

Disinfection is another highly effective way of minimizing environmental exposure. In high to minimal risk situations, it is advisable to regularly disinfect shared items such as litter boxes, food bowls, and bedding.

Preventing direct contact between cats is the best way to ultimately avoid infection. If you are bringing home a new cat that has come from a breeder or a shelter, it is important to have them visit the veterinarian before introducing them to any cats you currently have in the home. Keep in mind that your new cat may not yet show symptoms, so limited exposure and diligence in cleaning and sanitizing is critical in the first 1 to 2 weeks after adoption.

How are humans affected by a Feline Upper Respiratory Infection?

Humans are at a low risk of contracting the diseases responsible for causing upper respiratory infections in felines. Most of these infectious agents are species-specific. Viruses such as B. bronchiseptica and conjunctivitis associated with C. felis can be a possible risk for people with lowered immunity. To prevent the chance of infection, wash your hands frequently.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.


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Related: We have more information under our cat health category.

Whisker Fatigue in Cats

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If you've never heard of whisker fatigue, don't worry. It's not necessarily a widely known condition. But for some cats, it does negatively impact daily life.


Why do cats have whiskers?

Cat whiskers are extraordinary sensing hairs that give them almost extrasensory powers. Despite their evolution, whiskers (tactile hairs or vibrissae), have remained as features on most mammals in some basic form.

For cats, whiskers are much more than facial adornments that add to their cuteness. Whiskers act as high-powered antennae that pull signals into their brain and nervous system. The ultra-sensitive sensory organs at the base of the whiskers, called proprioceptors, tell your cat a lot about their world. They provide your cat with information regarding their own orientation in space and the what and where of their environment. In these ways, whiskers help your cat move around furniture in a dark room, hunt fast-moving prey (by sensing changes in air currents) and help to determine if they can squeeze into that incredibly tight spot between the bookcase and the wall.


So what exactly is whisker fatigue?

While cats can voluntarily “turn on” the sensory focus of their whiskers exactly where they want, whisker receptors mostly respond to a cat’s autonomic system — the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves that respond to the internal and external environment without conscious control (for example—pupils constricting in response to bright light).

You can think of whisker fatigue as an information overload that stresses out your cat. Because whisker hairs are so sensitive, every time your cat comes into contact with an object or detects movement, even a small change in air current or a slight brush against their face, messages are transmitted from those sensory organs at the base of their whiskers to their brain. That barrage of “messages” could stress out your cat, eventually causing what some people call whisker fatigue.

However, “fatigue” may not be the best description of the condition, since what your cat is feeling is probably more like distaste or aversion than soreness or actual fatigue. In fact, whisker stress is another term some people use for the condition.

Not all feline vets think whisker fatigue is a real condition or cause for concern. Dr. Cathy Lund of City Kitty, a feline-only veterinary practice in Providence, R.I, questions the validity of whisker fatigue. While a cat’s whiskers do serve as very sensitive tactile sensors, she does not believe contact between whiskers and objects causes stress in cats. That said, stress, for whatever reason, is a real issue of concern for cat owners and vets.


What causes whisker fatigue?

While your cat relies on their fetching facial antennae to navigate the world, they can’t tune out unnecessary messages the way we filter out background noise. They inadvertently finds stimulation in the most common and ever-present situations, like at their food or water bowl. If their whiskers touch the sides of the bowl every time they dips their head to sip or eat, this can cause whisker fatigue, the theory suggests.

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Your cat’s behavior at their food and water bowl will tip you off that they are stressed. Some signs to watch for include:

  • Pacing in front of the bowls

  • Being reluctant to eat but appearing to be hungry

  • Pawing at food and knocking it to the floor before eating

  • Acting aggressive toward other animals around food

Of course these behaviors can also be related to potentially serious health conditions like dental disease, oral tumors, gastrointestinal diseases, behavioral problems and more, so if you have any concerns about your cat’s well-being, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian.

Many vets, regardless of their opinions on whisker fatigue, agree that cats often find eating out of a bowl unappealing in general and providing a flat surface for meals is preferable.

Whisker fatigue is not a disease (and is not caused by or related to any type of illness) and appears to manifest primarily with the repeated daily contact with food and water bowls. However, a cat who is stressed is not happy, and if they avoid eating and drinking, they might become malnourished and/or dehydrated.


How can whisker fatigue be prevented?

Luckily, preventing or stopping stress related to whisker fatigue at feeding time is as easy as replacing your cat’s food and water bowls. At meal time, provide a flat surface or a wide-enough bowl for cat food so that their whiskers don't touch the sides of the bowl. In a pinch, a paper plate can serve as a suitable food dish.

Most cats prefer a lip-less, large flowing water source, for drinking. Ideally, cat parents should provide an automatic, fresh water source, like a cat water fountain, which cats prefer to an icky, stale bowl of water that might as well be from an old tire.

Some cat parents believe another solution is to trim their cats’ whiskers, but this is a giant no-no. Trimming whiskers mutes their expression, dims their perceptions, and in general, discombobulates cats and annoys them.


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Related: We have more information under our cat health category.

8 Ways to Help a Blind Cat

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A blind cat can have a wonderful, happy life. It is not at all uncommon for pets, particularly older ones, to suffer vision loss. Normal cat vision is close to humans or perhaps just a little less. Pets have more problems focusing on near objects than people do, though, which is why your kitty may have some trouble seeing the last few kibbles in the food bowl.

Just as people over the age of 40 tend to need reading glasses, the same vision changes start to develop in almost all cats over the age of five. This normal change, called nuclear sclerosis, results in less flexibility of the lens, a hazy appearance, and less ability to focus on close objects. Pets still see pretty well despite the bluish tint to their eyes. Blind cats typically are still very happy. They continue to enjoy and remain engaged in life and the world around them—including their humans. Kitties do not need to see you to love you.


Your blind pet’s comfort level, safety, and emotional health are important. Follow these tips to keep the cat happy and comfortable.

Do not move food or litter box.

It is vital to keep the food, water bowls, litter box, and pet beds in the same spot, so your cat can easily find belongings.

Do some scent marking.

It may be helpful to “scent” important objects for the cat with strong odors such as peppermint to help its nose “see” what it is looking for.

Avoid rearranging the furniture.

Blind pets memorize and "mind-map" the house, and moving things around will confuse the cat. It is not at all unusual for a blind cat, for instance, to still insist on making floor-to-counter leaps with confidence as long as its memory remains fresh and accurate.

Safeguard dangerous zones.

Pad the sharp edges of furniture with bubble wrap until your cat learns to avoid the danger. Block off steep stairways with baby gates to prevent falls.

Use your voice to guide your cat.

Your pet’s personality and behavior may change a bit as vision fades. Some pets become more dependent on the owner, and act “clingy”—basically they will treat you as a guide, stand very close, and follow you around. Get in the habit of speaking to your cat when you enter or leave a room to help it keep track of your whereabouts.

Attach a bell to other animals in the house.

In multiple pet homes, another cat or dog may serve as a guide for the blind pet. Help your blind pet by attaching a bell or other noisemaker to the other animal's collar.

Create a safe spot in each room.

To avoid tripping over the pet that is always underfoot, provide a safe, comfy bed in each room. Very social cats may become standoffish once vision fades. They may want to avoid contact with houseguests to avoid being stepped on.

Don't startle your cat.

Blind pets also startle more easily, so always speak to your cat before petting him to avoid being accidentally nipped or swatted in reflex.


If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.


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Related: We have more information under our cat health tags.

Why "Dry Pilling" Is Dangerous for Cats

If your cat coughs or vomits after taking a pill, there's probably a good reason. Coughing or vomiting after having swallowed pills dry could very well be a result of dry pilling (giving your cat a pill without any liquid). If you have ever tried to dry-swallow an aspirin, you'll recognize how uncomfortable the experience can be. Swallowing half a pill can even be worse, because of the sharp corners.

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Why "Dry Pilling" Is Dangerous for Cats

Dry pilling can lead to pills getting stuck in your cat's esophagus (the tube leading from the mouth to the stomach). While dry pills are likely to get stuck, capsules are even more dangerous for cats. The smooth, gelatinous surface tends to cause capsules to lodge in the esophagus.


A 2001 study presented in a veterinary journal stated that "After 5 minutes, 84% of capsules and 64% of tablets are still sitting in the esophagus." The study also brought out the dangerous occurrences of esophagitis, which can be caused by the irritation of pills and capsules remaining in the esophagus for long periods of time. This can often lead to blockage, entirely.


How to Give Your Cat Liquid to Avoid Dangerous Dry Pilling

It may seem impossible to force a cat to drink. Fortunately, though, there are a number of tricks you can use to prevent problems when administering oral medications to cats:

  • Follow Pilling with Liquid
    Use a small 1cc syringe filled with either plain water or low-salt broth. Approach the cat from the back or side, rather than front-on. Keep the cat's head level rather than tipped back, to facilitate swallowing.

  • Conceal the Pill in a Pill Pocket
    Pill Pockets are cone-shaped, soft treats with a hole down the center. Just pop the pill inside and pinch the top closed, and offer it to your cat as a treat.

  • Treat After Pilling
    Offering a favorite treat will not only encourage future pilling cooperation but will help get the pill into the stomach quickly so it can go to work.

  • Canned Food After Pilling
    Try giving only a small portion of a regular meal of canned food before the pilling, and withhold the remaining portion for afterward.

  • Compounded Flavored Meds
    Some pharmacies will compound medications into flavored liquid doses, which are both easier to swallow, and a lot tastier than pills. Your veterinarian may work with a compounding pharmacy, a "regular" pharmacy may have flavors for pets (we strongly advise against shopping online for your pets meds).

  • Transdermal Meds
    Some medications can be formulated into a gel or ointment that can be rubbed into your cat's inner ear. These can also be compounded by pharmacies.

At least one of these solutions should relieve both you and your cat of the anxiety and discomfort found in dry pilling. Speak with your veterinarian specifically about the best approach for your feline friend.


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White Cats and Deafness

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Hereditary deafness is a major concern found in white cats, and especially so if one or both eyes are blue.

Research has found that only 17-22% of white cats with non-blue eyes are born deaf. The percentages rise to nearly half (40%) if the cat has one blue eye. An upwards of 65-85% of all white cats with two blue eyes are deaf. Some of these cats are deaf in a just one ear. Interestingly enough, if a white cat has one blue eye, the ear that is deaf tends to fall on the same side as the blue eye.

Cats with only one deaf ear out of the two tend to appear normal and their issue may never be known to their humans. Even if born completely deaf, cats can live perfectly fine lives as long as you take heed to not put them in situations where they must rely on audible cues (i.e. the outdoors). There is no treatment for hereditary deafness.


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Don't forget to subscribe to our email newsletter for more recipes, articles, and clinic updates delivered to your inbox (here). Or, you can keep up to date by liking and following our Facebook page (here). We also have additional helpful articles under our tips category (here).