Feline Upper Respiratory Infection

‘Cat flu’ or ‘snuffles’ as it is sometimes called is a very common illness in cats. Symptoms can vary greatly depending on the severity of the infection and also the type of virus causing the infection.

Most cases of ‘cat flu’ are caused by infection with the following viruses:

  • feline calicivirus (FCV)
  • feline herpes virus (FHV, or FHV-1 also known as feline rhinotracheitis virus)

Although these two viruses are responsible for about 90% of upper respiratory infections, there are other organisms that can contribute to the infection:

  • Bordetella bronchiseptica (may be a cause of sneezing, nasal discharge and sometimes coughing )
  • Chlamydophila felis (this is mainly a cause of ocular disease – conjunctivitis

The incubation period of cat flu is around 2-10days

How will you know if your cat has ‘flu’?

The first signs of infection are usually:

  • sneezing
  • runny eyes
  • loss of appetite
  • lethargy                                                                                  
  • fever

Your cat may look as if it has a cold            

As the infection progresses bacterial infections may take hold which can lead to:

  • coughing
  • conjunctivitis
  • the development of ulcers in the mouth and eyes
  • depression
  • dehydration
  • pneumonia


Kittens, young cats and cats whose immune systems are compromised such as very old cats or those suffering from FIV, FeLV or other illnesses, are more likely to develop serious complications due to secondary bacterial infections which can lead to death.


Feline Respiratory disease is highly contagious virus is found in the saliva, tears and nasal discharges of infected cats and can survive in the environment for up to 10 days. Your cat will be susceptible to infection if:

  • it comes into contact with an infected cat
  • comes into contact with a carrier cat
  • if you have been in contact with an infected cat the virus can be carried home to your cat on your clothes and other objects such as food bowls.


If you your cat is showing any of the above signs a trip to your vet is first priority.

Do not be tempted to treat your cat with your own flu remedies!

Many of these contain aspirin or acetaminophen, which are toxic in cats!

What will the vet do?

Although viruses are the cause of feline upper respiratory disease, bacterial infections will take advantage of your cats challenged immune system and can be detrimental to your cat’s recovery. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, your vet will probably prescribe symptomatic treatments such as antibiotics, eye ointments, nebulization to help relieve blocked nasal passages and fluid therapy.

Good nursing care is essential for these patients. Cats with ‘cat flu’ become depressed easily, are very reluctant to eat as they have blocked noses or ulcerated mouths. Encouraging them to eat by feeding soft, slightly warmed, aromatic food is extremely important as poor nutrition hinders the healing process. It is important to keep the eyes and nose free of discharges and to keeping the cat warm and comfortable.

Many cats that have recovered from feline upper respiratory disease  become carriers of the virus. These cats often show no symptoms of the illness but continue to shed the virus in saliva, tears and nasal  discharge and are therefore a source of infection to other cats. Some will show signs of being carriers when put in a stressful environment such as a cattery. However, most cats will eventually eliminate the virus from their systems.


Vaccinating your cat is the most effective way of controlling this disease.

Although vaccination cannot always prevent mild infections from occurring it is essential in preventing the development of severe disease.

Join Our Property Alerts

Join Our Newsletter