Rhinotracheitis is caused by a herpesvirus that attacks the eyes, nasal passages, and trachea (windpipe) of cats. Once infected, a cat shows respiratory signs, such as sneezing, cough, and runny eyes and nose, within 2 to 5 days. Infection is spread by contact with discharges from the eyes, nose, or mouth of infected cats or contact with contaminated clothing, hands, feeding utensils, or other articles. In mild cases, recovery occurs in 1 to 2 weeks, while more severe cases may last for several weeks.
Adult cats usually recover, but the disease is more serious in kittens, and fatalities are not uncommon. Some cats become persistently infected and suffer from chronic sneezing or periodic relapses.
Vaccination is the best means of preventing this disease. All cats should be vaccinated yearly.
Important Points in Treatment
1. While no treatment is available to eliminate the virus, various medications are given to control clinical signs and prevent secondary bacterial infections and pneumonia.
2. In severe cases, hospitalization is often necessary.
3. Many cats with rhinotracheitis lose all interest in food because of a decreased sense of smell. Forced oral feeding or intravenous feeding may be necessary until the cat’s appetite improves.