We are very grateful to receive this article from
Suvi Pohjola-Stenroos, DVM, PhD, also a well
known Ocicat breeder(Galax cattery) from Finland.
Feline upper respiratory problems occur very often, especially in cattery cats. They
may be caused by viral infections or bacteria or both. Besides infectious agents we
sometimes can determine that symptoms are caused by inhalant allergens (those will not be
covered by this article).
Herpes infection is the most prevalent disease in cattery cats. The virus genome
remains in the trigeminal ganglion in the head until the animal is stressed. Then the
virus is activated, grows down into the nerve and re-infects the mucosal cells where it
replicates and is shed. Animals that are infected remain latent carriers, that is they
will shed the virus whenever they are stressed. The first episode will normally last
several weeks, but recurrent infection lasts 3-10 days.
Clinical signs are ocular or systemic:
- Bilateral keroconjunctivitis, and some corneal ulcers may be seen especially in
those breeds with large eyes. The eyes are very painful. The cat will keep the eyes mostly
closed, and massive production of tears can be observed.
- Systemic signs include rhinitis, that is an inflammation of the nasal mucosa.
So the cat will sneeze. First the secretion is watery, but later on it will appear
mucopurulent, because the mucosal lining will ulcerate and secondary bacteria will adhere.
- Some cats will develop chronic rhinitis/sinusitis due to the permanent
turbinate damage of the nasal cavity.
- Pneumonia in very young cats may lead to rapid death.
The diagnosis of herpes virus infection is made by culturing nasal,
ocular or oropharyngal exudates. Also intranuclear inclusion bodies can sometimes be seen
in cell scrapings taken from the conjunctiva.
The treatment includes antiviral drugs (ophtalmic solutions in the eyes),
systemic antibiotics to prevent secondary bacteria, fluids if necessary and other
supportive care in the acute phase. In chronic cases you can keep the nasal passages clear
for example with Neosynephrine (use every day).
Steroids (cortisone) are always contraindicated as they reactivate the infection and
suppress immunity. Steroids also prevent corneal ulcers from healing.
Prevention is the most important task. Vaccinate your cat properly. Do
not use modified live vaccines because you bring live virus contamination to your cattery.
Especially if you suspect corneal ulceration never use modified live vaccines.
For vaccination refer to the article "Prevention of
respiratory problems by proper vaccination".
Calici is very common, about 20% of cats shed this virus. There are several strains,
and vaccine strains are not necessarily the same as those that occur in catteries. Calici
is shed from oropharynx into the saliva, some is shed via feces.
Victims are kittens in catteries.
Clinical picture is of transient sickness (2-4 days):
- oral vesicles that range from pinpoint to large which may be on palate or on tongue.
Sometimes ulcers are found on the lips, the limbus and nose.
Diagnosis is possible by culturing the virus.
Calicivirus infection is best treated with supportive care. Put the cat
on a soft food diet which allows the lesions to heal.
Chronic cats should be tested for FelV and FIV infection. Preventive treatment is best.
Chlamydia is a bacteria and common in cattery cats. Primarily affects kittens around
weaning when they have poor maternal immunity left. Kittens are infected by adult cats or
older kittens. Transmission occurs through feces and discharges (eye and nose). recovered
cats may become carriers and often don't develop good immunity. Recurrent infections may
happen, but often they decrease with maturation of the immune system.
Clinical signs are:
- unilateral conjunctivitis, also severe conjunctivitis in the unopened eyes of the newborn
kitten is possible.
- Some young kittens (2-4 weeks) may develop fatal pneumonia leading to death. Often we
don't see the respiratory signs at all, we just see the death.
- Chlamydia also induces reproductive problems and abortion.
Diagnosis in chlamydial problems is based on examination of conjunctival
scrapings, or so called IFA-test.
Chlamydial infections are best treated with tetracyclines and their
derivates, treatment time may be long, and dosing should be continued for 2 weeks after
the resolution of the clinical signs.
Preventive measures includes good cattery management, especially hygiene.
Bacteria. Cattery cats are susceptible, recovered animals my become carriers.
Mycoplasma is shed in exudates.
Signs are mainly ocular:
- uni- or bilateral conjunctivitis, not very painful.
- The cat can get concurrent chlamydial infection.
- Systemic signs may develop in 3-4 weeks old kittens.
- Mycoplasma may induce abortion in the queen.
Diagnosis is made by conjunctival scrapings and also by culturing in special
There is no vaccine available.
Treatment is with tetracyclines or their derivates at least for 2 weeks.
This antibiotic is static for the bacteria, thus the cat's immunity must kick the bacteria