When a cat suffers the symptoms of a cold -- runny nose and eyes, sneezing and wheezing -- it's referred to as an upper respiratory infection. A variety of bacterial and viral infections can cause an upper respiratory infection. A tissue and steam will help her runny nose and the vet may prescribe medication to help her other symptoms.
Approximately 80 to 90 percent of upper respiratory infections in cats are caused by feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus. Feline herpesvirus is not the same type of herpes virus humans are prone to catching. When a cat catches herpesvirus, she will never be free of it, however she usually won't be bothered by it unless her immune system is stressed. Similarly, when a cat has calicivirus, she has it for life and will show symptoms when she's stressed and her immune system is weak.
Bacterial infections causing upper respiratory infections are more unusual in cats. When such an infection occurs, it's usually due to one of three infections: mycoplasma pneumoniae, Bordetella bronchiseptica and Chlamydia psittaci.
In addition to a runny nose, you'll likely notice other symptoms if your cat's suffering from an upper respiratory infection. Common signs of a cold include:
- Conjunctivitis, or inflammation of the eyelid's membranes
- Colored or clear discharge from the eyes and nose
- Oral ulcers, in the case of virus
Since most upper respiratory infections are viral in nature, they generally clear up on their own in one to three weeks. Wipe any discharge from your cat's nose and eyes with a moist cloth. If your cat's congested, place her in a steamy bathroom for 10 to 15 minutes several times a day. If her cold has affected her appetite, offer her a strong-smelling food, such as canned cat food. If she's reluctant to eat, discuss an appetite stimulant with your vet.
Though your cat likely will heal with your tender loving care at home, she should still see the vet. The vet can monitor her progress and prescribe medication that can make her comfortable and determine if she needs supplemental fluids due to dehydration. Occasionally, the vet will prescribe eye drops to clear up painful eye conditions and antibiotics to minimize the chance of secondary infections and treat bacterial-induced upper respiratory infections.