Upper Respiratory Infections in Cats: An Integrative Approach

Allen M. Schoen, D.V.M., M.S.

Upper respiratory infections in cats are quite widespread, infectious, and often quite challenging to treat with conventional medicine. Like human colds and respiratory infections, some are caused by bacteria and respond to conventional antibiotic therapy and other are resistant to antibiotics or may be caused by viruses that do not respond to antibiotic therapy. Young kittens are most commonly affected, though any cat may be susceptible.

Most upper respiratory infections (U.R.I.’s) normally run a course of seven to ten days though they may become chronic and quite serious if not taken care of promptly. The viruses that may cause feline u.r.i.’s include feline rhinotracheitis, a herpes virus, feline calici virus as well as others. There are vaccinations that do appear to protect cats from these. These are some of your standard feline vaccines available from your veterinarian commonly abbreviated as FeCR. There has recently been a great deal of controversy regarding vaccination protocols for cats. The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) has recently acknowledged that there is no valid scientific documentation to require vaccination yearly for most cats. Some holistic veterinarians do not recommend any vaccinations for fear that they may cause chronic disease in animals. Some conventional veterinarians still recommend aggressive vaccination protocols. What does one do?

Based on current research from both conventional and holistic medicine, I personally believe that reality is somewhere in the middle. Seeing many cats suffering with severe chronic u.r.i.’s, I support initial vaccination protocols, because they do seem to offer long term protection with minimal consequences. If one is concerned about potential vaccine reactions, which I am, I often recommend a homeopathic remedy following vaccination. The remedy that I usually suggest is Thuja occidentalis 30C potency, 3 granules once a day for three days following vaccines, administered without food. I support the AAFP guidelines of minimizing vaccinations. The vaccines may last for life or should last for at least three years. If your cat is in contact with stray cats frequently, you may want to consider revaccinating every three to five years, if not, it may be good for life. It is just like with people, when they recommended tetanus vaccine frequently and then decreased recommendations from every three to five years to every ten years.

Initial symptoms of u.r.i. include sneezing with a pussy discharge from the eyes and nose. A tracheitis with a cough may occur as well. Sometimes this may lead to a chronic sinusitis, ulcers on the eye and chronic discharges and sneezing which may remain infectious and this cat may always be a carrier. Conjunctivitis, both acute and chronic may occur as well. Many cats from shelters or stray cats may be carrying a u.r.i.. Make sure they get examined by your veterinarian prior to be brought home if you have other cats. Isolate them for a while to make sure they may not be coming down with a u.r.i. and then transmitting it to your current cats.

How is one diagnosed? Normally, your veterinarian will diagnose a u.r.i. by physical examination. Most laboratory tests would not reveal much, though you would want to check for any underlying disease that may predispose you new kitty to u.r.i.’s. This includes testing for feline leukemia and feline AIDS. Most veterinarians will treat initially with an antibiotic as well as antibiotic eyedrops. This is not unreasonable, since if it clears up quickly you have your answer. However, it is not unreasonable to use supportive measures to help stimulate the immune system as well. This would include the use of vitamins, western and chinese herbs, immunostimulants, homeopathy as well as acupuncture if needed.

A conventional medication that some veterinarians are using now to support the immune system is interferon. Just a drop once or twice a day may help give your kitty an immune boost. I usually only use this for more chronic feline infections or if they are not responding quickly enough. Echinacea is a reasonable american herb to use to boost the immune system. We discussed this in earlier columns. I would use it either in powder form or as a tincture. Make sure you purchase a good quality product with guaranteed potency. Check with a holistically trained veterinarian if one is available. Capsules may be opened and the powder sprinkled on food if they are eating or dissolved in water. The dose should be tapered down from the human weight to your cats weight. If you are using a tincture, mix 15 drops in one ounce of distilled water and boil off the alcohol by setting the mixture in an open bottle over steam heat for 2 minutes. Use 10 drops of the diluted mixture 3 to 4 times daily. If your cat still salivates, there probably is too much alcohol still and boil off more. If your kitty has a pussy discharge from their eyes and a conjunctivitis, you can clean this gently with some warm water and then use euphrasia, commonly known as eyebright eyedrops. These are available from holistic veterinarians or some health food stores or you can dilute eyebright tincture just like the echinacea and administer one drop per eye as well as a few drops orally twice a day. If you only have saline eyedrops at home, these can be used to help clean and soothe the eyes as well.

Vitamin supplementation can also be quite beneficial to help fight off the infection. Try to find a sodium ascorbate or buffered vitamin C. Normally I will suggest 125 to 250 mg./ day for a cat. You may slowly increase from 125 to 250 mg. If the dose is too high, you may get some indigestion or diarrhea. Decrease the dose if this happens. Vitamin E and A may also be beneficial. Vitamin E can be used at a dosage of 50 I.U. per day and vitamin A can be administered as cod liver oil, abut 1/4 teaspoon per day. A multi vitamin supplement may also be beneficial. I also like giving a blue green algae or seaweed support for its trace minerals, flavonoids as well as a healthy protein source. Usually spirulina, one tablet per day, which also can be picked up at a local health food store.

A common amino acid, lysine, can be quite beneficial if the upper respiratiory infection is due to the feline herpes virus.  This can help resolve the problem and keep it in remission.  Dosages of 50mg to 100mg per day have been used successfully in cats with no evident side effects.

Some cats may not eat well when they are suffering from a U.R. I.. You can try making a chicken broth and give a some three to four times a day. Sometimes they will like something smelly, since they may not be able to smell well. Try some sardines or tuna. Garlic can be very beneficial as well, try some small pieces. It is an excellent immune boost as well. If your kitty is really congested, sometimes using a vaporizer in a small space such in a shower helps relieve some of the congestion as well. Homeopathic remedies may also be beneficial in treating a U.R. I. . Consult a veterinarian trained in homeopathy if you are not familiar with homeopathy. Prevention is by far the best approach, isolating all new cats before bring them into your home. But if they do have a U.R.I., this is an integrated approach to help your poor kitty feel much better faster, combining the best of conventional medicine along with natures support!  Till then, continue purring!

If you would like a consultation with one of my Veterinary associates in the greater New York or Connecticut region, you can go to the practice part of my website, call the appropriate office and make an appointment with one of them to see how we can help your kindred spirit.

No article can replace the services of a trained veterinarian.  This article is not intended to encourage treatment of illness, disease, or other medical problems by the layman.  Any application of the recommendations set forth in this article is solely at the reader’s discretion and risk.  You should consult a veterinarian concerning any veterinary medical or surgical problem.  If a veterinarian is caring for your pet, for any condition, he or she can advise you about information described in this article.

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