Various infectious organisms have been isolated from the respiratory tract of cats. Most of these organisms are contagious, and some can cause fatal disease. These organisms include rhinotracheitis virus, calicivirus, Chlamydia psittaci, reoviruses, Mycoplasma, and various bacteria. In most cases, isolation of the offending organism is neither necessary nor cost-effective.
Respiratory diseases are transmitted by direct contact with infected cats or discharges from their eyes, nose, mouth, or other body fluids. Some of these organisms are spread by contaminated clothing, hands, feeding utensils, grooming equipment, and other articles. In a few cases, the organisms are air-borne for short distances.
The most common signs of respiratory disease are sneezing, cough, discharge from the eyes, nose, or mouth, difficult breathing, gagging, lack of appetite, and weight loss. Some infections last only a few days, while others may be present for weeks or months. Some of these disease agents exist in a carrier state in apparently healthy cats.
Important Points in Treatment
1. While most respiratory infections can be treated at home, severely ill cats require hospitalization and repeated laboratory tests and radiographs (x-rays) to monitor the response to treatment. Cats reluctant or unable to eat are also often hospitalized.