Feline Upper Respiratory Infections

Some of us cat parents may have heard the phrase feline upper respiratory infection at the vet clinic or from friends and family and it sounds like a mouthful and a little scary. We want to take away some of the fear and mystery and explain what it is and what we can do to help our purrfect friends. First off, the upper respiratory tract includes the nose/nostrils and nasal cavity, mouth, throat, voice box and the mucosal membrane that lines the whole system. Feline upper respiratory infection (URI) is the common term for a respiratory infection caused by one or more viral or bacterial agents within the upper respiratory tract. It may also be referred to as feline infectious respiratory disease or feline upper respiratory disease complex. Typically, the most consistent symptoms include sneezing, coughing, nasal congestion, conjunctivitis (inflammation of the membrane lining the eyelids), and discharge from the nose and/or eyes. This discharge may be clear or cloudy in colour. There are also a few general symptoms that you may also see with other illnesses. They may experience lack of appetite, lethargy, fever, enlarged lymph nodes, squinting and in severe cases, difficulty breathing.

Cats will experience inflammation and drainage in the mucous membranes of their nose and throat. This drainage is the body’s defenses trying to flush the infectious material from the body to eliminate the infection. The excessive sneezing, coughing and secretions also help to spread the infectious material from one cat to another. Most URIs are not considered a medical emergency, however, severe URIs can lead to depression and lack of appetite. This can be fatal for young kittens or senior cats who grow weak quickly without proper nutrition and adequate hydration. It is unfortunately common in URIs for the patients to contract an additional infection as their immune system is dampened, and the secondary infection may be more severe and require hospitalisation.

The Cause

Feline upper respiratory infections can be caused by different viruses and/or bacteria. The most common viruses that cause URIs in cats are feline calicivirus (FCV) and feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR), also known as feline herpesvirus type 1. The most common bacteria that cause URIs are Bordetella bronchiseptica (B. bronchiseptica) and Chlamydophila felis (C. felis). There are less common agents such as mycoplasma and feline reovirus. With this said, FCV and FVR are the most concerning because they are responsible for approximately 90% of feline URIs. Now, how do our cats become infected? The viruses and bacteria that are responsible for URIs in cats are highly contagious. An infected cat will shed the contagious materials in the saliva or secretions from their nose or eyes. Other cats are susceptible from direct contact as cats love to groom each other, and this makes it more of a concern with shelters and multi-cat households. Our cats can also be exposed through aerosol transmission where the infectious particles are released into the air through sneezing and coughing. It can also be transferred through fomites, which are objects that have been contaminated by one cat and then that object is exposed to uninfected cats. These objects can include kennels, food & water dishes, bedding, toys, and litter boxes. Environmental exposure is also a higher concern for those will multiple cats. It is thought to be more likely to contract URIs through direct contact and not as common through the environment. This is due to the fact many viruses and bacteria only survive a limited time in the environment and are also destroyed with disinfectants. FVR can survive less than 18 hours outside the host’s body while FCV can survive for up to 10 days and can survive laundry detergents that do not contain bleach. It is a good decision to take some extra precaution and disinfect all common items regardless.

Infectious Period

When talking about exposure to infected cats, whether direct or through the environment, we also need to think about how long they are contagious for and when is it safe to bring them around other cats. Once exposed our furry friends will go through an incubation period before they develop any clinical signs for us to pick up on. The incubation period is typically 2-10 days. In most cases the infection and clinical signs will last for 7-10 days after the incubation period, but signs can persist for up to 21 days in some cases. It is this entire period where the infected cat could be exposing other members of the house, boarding facility, or shelter.

Carrier State

The carrier state is a concern since the carrier cat no longer shows any clinical signs but is still contagious. With FVR, all cats become chronic carriers, meaning they will have the virus for life. For the most part, the virus would be dormant, and they would not suffer from any symptoms but periods of stress from illness, surgery, change in environment can reactivate it. With FCV, about 50% of infected cats will become carriers of the virus. In many cases the carrier state only lasts a few months with FCV, but in a small percentage of cases they will be a carrier for life. With FCV the virus is continually shed and does not go dormant. In these cases, the cats are still shedding the viral particles that are infectious to other cats. In addition, female carriers of either virus can pass it to their kittens without showing any symptoms themselves.

Most Susceptible

There are certain aspects that can make a cat more susceptible to feline upper respiratory infections than others. This includes kittens and senior cats who have less robust and effective immune systems. Cats may also have an underlying condition taxing their immune system, making them more susceptible as well. Those with a diagnosis of feline leukemia or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) are significantly more prone to URIs as their immune system is already strained so much. Some breeds of cats are more prone to URIs due to facial structure. Breeds with shortened noses or “smushed” faces have shorter bones in the skull causing the pushed in appearance, these breeds are called brachycephalies. Due to this facial structure, Persians, Himalayans, and Burmese have a limited ability to clear mucus containing viral or bacterial materials of a URI. This means cat parents of these breeds may want to take further preventative measures, and if contracted the URI may take longer to clear their system. Shelter cats and multi-cat households are more at risk as well since cats are infectious prior to showing any symptoms. It is very difficult to isolate the sick individual before any others contract the infection. We all love the freedom of being outside and unfortunately for cats this does put them at more risk. They are more likely to come in contact with an infected cat than and indoor only cat would. Of course, these points are only to bring awareness and does not mean your cat is guaranteed to contract a URI if they match some of these criteria.


It may be surprising that with URI cases diagnosis is done through a physical exam and typically no diagnostic testing is required. Diagnosis is mostly based on the clinical signs such as the runny nose and eyes, sneezing and conjunctivitis. Identifying the causing agent, which bacteria, or virus, is not always necessary unless they are not responding to treatment and may also be recommended in breeding cats. To identify a viral agent, they can collect samples of cells from the discharge at the eyes, nose and back of the throat to be sent off for testing. Depending on the symptoms exhibited, veterinarians may be able to identify to a certain extent whether it is FCV or FVR. FVR will typically cause red and swollen mucous membranes of the eyes and nose as well as an inflamed larynx and trachea. While FCV may create ulcers of the oral mucosa and lesions on the tongue or hard palate. When it comes to Chlamydophila felis, organisms can be identified through conjunctivitis scrapings.

If symptoms are long lasting or reoccurring, further diagnostic testing may be recommended. The additional testing could include chest and/or skull x-rays, blood tests, bacterial culture & sensitivity testing, and PCR testing of the abnormal discharge. X-rays also help to confirm that there is not lower respiratory involved like pneumonia. The veterinarian may want to rule out any underlying concurrent infections such as feline leukemia and FIV through quick and simple snap tests using a small blood sample. The more thorough testing for more severe cases helps them create a more targeted treatment plan for the specific viral or bacterial cause.


Most cats who have a URI can be treated symptomatically at home. This means that the veterinarian may prescribe medications to treat the specific symptoms each cat is experiencing such as eye drops, or nose drops for cloudy discharge, but many cats can recover with intervention from home. If the cat is not eating well the veterinarian may also prescribe an appetite stimulant. Whether it is a viral or bacterial URI, the veterinarian may prescribe broad spectrum antibiotics. A viral infection does not respond to antibiotics, but this does help to prevent any secondary infection occurring while the immune system is burdened, further complicating the condition. If further testing was performed and the URI was confirmed to be caused by either Bordetella or Chlamydophila, it would be treated with specific antibiotics to target the culprit more effectively. It is very important to follow all antibiotic labels exactly as instructed. Do not discontinue the medication before completing the course of treatment and try your best to not miss a dose. If you are ever unsure, please call your veterinarian with any questions or concerns. In severe cases where the cat has become dehydrated, depressed, or is having serious difficulty breathing, hospitalization may be recommended for fluid replacement therapy and/or oxygen therapy.

Apart from medications and hospitalization there are a few things veterinarians recommend that you can do yourself to help with their recovery. For cats that are experiencing a lot of congestion, they may benefit from increased humidification or steam therapy. You can do this by bringing them into the bathroom with the hot shower running for about 10-15 minutes and this can be done several times a day. It is important to make sure they are staying hydrated when doing steam therapy. Additionally, pet parents can use a moist cloth or wipe to avoid further irritation to the nose or eyes while gently wiping away discharge. Since it is common to have a decreased appetite, having a highly palatable wet food will help get them eating and hydrated. Lastly, a probiotic supplement and a Lysine supplement may be recommended to help support the immune system while fighting the infection. The probiotics can also help with any gastrointestinal upset experienced as a side effect for medications like antibiotics.


Since feline upper respiratory infections can be caused by a variety of viral and bacterial agents, it can be difficult to prevent against, but there are a few things pet parents can do to minimize the risk. One prevention method we will look into is vaccinations. Part of the core vaccines recommended to all kittens and cats is FVRCP which helps to prevent FVR, FCV, and feline panleukopenia. There is also a vaccine against feline chlamydiosis (an eye infection caused by C. felis) that is not part of the core vaccines and is usually only recommended if the veterinarian feels they are at a higher risk of exposure to C. felis. Also, there is a rare but serious form of FCV known as hemorrhagic calicivirus but there is an increased risk of reaction with the vaccine and veterinarians will want to ensure you understand the risk and benefits before administering. Since a feline leukemia diagnosis makes cats more susceptible to URIs, it is also a good idea to ask your veterinarian about this core vaccine. The forementioned vaccines would require a booster on a scheduled basis of 1-3 years dependant on the vaccine and vaccine history of the patient. While vaccines are great tools to minimize the risk, none of the vaccines will completely prevent an infection but they will significantly reduce the severity of the infection and shorten the length of illness.

Another way to prevent feline URIs is to minimize exposure. Preventing direct contact between your cat and others greatly minimizes the chance they will pick up any bacteria or virus leading to the infection. Indoor cats are at a great advantage due to their minimal exposure. Unfortunately, cats in humane societies, shelters, boarding facilities, and cat shows have a harder time preventing both direct contact and environmental transmission. It may be surprising to some but we ourselves can be exposing our cats to viral and bacterial agents through hands, toys, and clothing. If you yourself have been exposed to other cats it is a great idea to change our clothes and wash our hands, and of course clean or keep any dishes and toys separate. Minimizing exposure for the first couple weeks of bringing a new cat home is also a great recommendation to consider. This not only helps to minimize stress for current furry family members, but it also gives a chance to monitor for any symptoms and help to prevent an infection spreading to the rest of the home. Most would recommend at least 2 weeks of separation with proper hand hygiene and separate toys and dishes. Some pet parents are extra careful and would wait till the new member is fully vaccinated and has a clean bill of health before direct contact with their new friends.

Boosting the immune system and minimizing stress is another method to help prevent feline URIs. This is especially important for cats that are carriers of viral agents as stress is an added burden to the immune system putting them at a higher risk for viral shedding. You can minimize stress by providing perches to get away or watch out a window. Having a variety of toys for them to play with and lots of space to wonder and relax also helps to prevent stress and therefore, prevents shedding of the virus. A big stressor for cats is a crowded, dirty litter box so it is a great idea to ensure you have enough litter boxes in low traffic areas that are cleaned often. Another way to minimize stress is through pheromone treatment that you can plug into the wall or spray areas like their bed, litter box and perches. There are a few things we can add to their diet to boost their immune system to minimize the risk. As we had talked about before with at home treatments, you can add a probiotic and lysine supplement that helps to strengthen the immune system to then fight off infection. The addition of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories can also help keep the immune system running at peak performance to tackle any viral or bacterial agents ahead.

We hope whether a single cat or multi-cat household, and indoor or outdoor, that we have given you some insight on feline URIs and some preventative methods to help keep all our furry friends as healthy as possible.

The Lowdown on Litter

The kitty litter type and litter box options out there these days can be overwhelming. What may be the right choice for one cat or owner my not work for you and your cat. There are many reasons one might be looking for a new litter or litter box. Maybe you are bringing home your first cat or bringing a new addition to your home, and you want to make sure you are still up to date on your options and making the best choice for them and yourself. Whether you are switching to help ease some strain on your shoulders or switching to find your cat’s preference, we are here to help. We have gone through all the litter types and boxes out there, their downfalls and upsides, so you can make the best decision for you and your furry family members.

Litter Types

With so many different litter types out there, it can be hard to narrow down what’s right for you, your lifestyle, and your beloved cat. We all have different priorities, such as an easy clean up and little dust, or being more environmentally cautious or keeping your budget in mind.

We are going to breakdown many of the varieties available so you can be more confident in making that right choice for you and your cat(s).

Litter TypeProsCons
Non-Clumping Clay Litter– Absorbs its weight in urine.
– Much less expensive than Clumping Clay litter.
– Most, if not all cats like it, typically no litter training needed.
– Easy to find, many brands fall into this category.
– Covers smell to a certain extent.  
– Heavy and dusty.
– Tracking occurs.
– Since it is non-clumping, must be changed frequently (at least once a week).
– Not biodegradable, sits in landfills.  
Clumping Clay Litter– Made with bentonite clay, allows urine to form into solid clumps to be scooped.
– Easy to clean.
– Most, if not all cats like it, typically no litter training needed.
– Easy to find, many brands fall into this category.
– Good at neutralizing the smell.
– With good routine, can be changed monthly.  
– Heavy and dusty.
– Tracking occurs.
– Not biodegradable, sits in landfills.  
Crystal Litter (Silica-gel)– Absorbs liquid and traps odour better than clay litter.
– Crystals draw in urine inside them leaving the outside dry, no clumps to scoop.
– Less upkeep, only scoop the poop, switch out monthly.
– Very light weight.Little to no dust, bigger crystals result in less tracking.  
– More expensive.
– Different texture, litter training may be needed, refusal is possible.
– Not biodegradable, sits in landfills.  
Wood Litter– Made of wood like pine, absorbs liquid well and then turns to saw dust.
– Lasts longer.
– Less expensive.
– Natural smell to control odour.
– Biodegradable, more environmentally friendly.  
– Different texture, litter training may be needed, refusal is possible.
– More frequent cleaning/labour intensive.
– Must sift out the dust and keep the pellets regularly.  
Paper Litter– Uses recycled paper made into pellets, biodegradable.
– Light weight.
– More absorbent than clay litter.
– Dust-free, little to no tracking.  
– Different texture, litter training may be needed, refusal is possible.
– Expensive.
– More labour intensive and must switch out weekly.
– Can be messy, not the best odour control.  
Corn Litter– Lighter than clay litter.
– Can be formulated as a clumping litter.
– Biodegradable, more environmentally friendly.
– Less dust than clay litters.
– With good routine, can be changed monthly.  
– Expensive.
– Not as good at odour control.
– Some tracking occurs.
– Different texture, litter training may be needed, refusal is possible.  
Tofu Litter– Made of edible soy, biodegradable and flushable.
– Highly absorbent, quick clumping to scoop out.
– Dust-free and low tracking.
– Light weight.  
– Expensive.
– Different texture, litter training may be needed, refusal is possible.
– Not the best odour control, dependent on brand.
– Can go moldy if stored in a high moisture area.

Litter Boxes – Quantity, Placement & Types

As many cat parents know, cats can be very particular about their litter box such as, size, shape, depth, and placement. Just like the litter, what may work for one cat does not always work for another, or what worked last week isn’t to their liking this week and it can be hard to figure out why. If cats are spooked by their box or “inconvenienced” by the size or complexity of it, they are more likely to find somewhere more comfortable to do their “business”. We want to help you avoid that scenario as much as possible.

N+1 Rule

Before we jump into what litter box is right for your cat(s), it may be best to consider how many litter boxes you need. The general rule or recommendation is to have one more litter box than the number of cats in the home.

Number of litter boxes = n + 1, n represents the number of cats in the home.

Ex. If you have 3 cats, n = 3 in this instance. Therefore; Number of litter boxes = 3 +1

Total number of litter boxes = 4

Of course, this is a recommendation. Many single cat households are perfectly content with just one litter box, especially in smaller homes where locating multiple appropriate areas is not feasible. In multi-cat households many find that having that extra box helps provide the cats the options they desire and minimizes the chances of them going outside the box.

Box Placement

The first instinct for many is to keep it out of the way, and typically out of sight. This is normally for our own convenience, but there may be a placement that meets everyone’s needs. It is best place it in a cool, dry, and quiet spot. A low traffic area that is away from their food and water. As much as we want it out of the way, we must also choose a spot that is easily accessible, and not likely that they will get locked in or out of that area.

Litter Box Types

Similarly, to cat litter, there are many litter box options available. All different colours, sizes, depths, and different entry ways. We are going to touch on the big litter box questions, shedding some light on the more popular options.

A big question out there is whether to go with a covered or uncovered box. Every cat seems to have their own preference on the issue. A covered box does help eliminate some mess and odour for us humans. With that said a covered box also traps more dust and odours, which may irritate them than an uncovered box. If you happen to have a cat that is perfectly happy using a covered box, it is even more important to scoop everyday to keep it clean and comfortable.

Our next topic is for those pet parents that are dealing with sprayers or kickers. These cats can leave quite the mess of litter or pee outside the box. Some older cats or those with joint issues may not be able to crouch down as far anymore and this causes them to pee higher than the side of the box. Its best to look for a box with high sides but still a low enough entrance to enter and exit with ease. A covered box is a great choice for these cats as well, if they don’t mind the lid.  A top-entry litterbox is another fantastic option for more mobile cats, and it really cuts down on the mess left around the litter box.

Self-cleaning litter boxes have been growing in popularity. These can help keep things clean and sanitary. It can be very beneficial for those that travel and don’t feel comfortable with pet sitters. It provides the convenience of not having to scoop daily while keeping the litter box clean and comfortable for the cat(s). The convenience does come with a bigger price tag, but that may be worth it for many cat parents. Keep in mind, the noise and movement as our cat(s) pass by may scare and make them more prone to avoiding the box and finding somewhere else to go.

The choice of litter box is not always up to us, some of our cat(s) may have more of an input on the decision than others.

Making the Switch

Some cats take to a new litter right away and do not require any transition process and make it easy on us. Most of us, unfortunately, are not that lucky. Using a transition method can greatly decrease the stress on the cat(s) during this change. There are two common transition methods we will be going over.

Slow Transition

This process is very similar to the traditional approach to switching their food. You add the new litter to the bottom of the litter box and then the old litter on top of it. This way when the cat first steps into it, the texture feels and smells familiar. As they dig and bury, they will get accustomed to the new litter underneath. Gradually increase the amount of the new litter at the bottom and decrease the amount of old litter on top. It may take up to 7 days for the whole transition, and by the end they will be using only the new litter.

Positive Association

This is another way to transition cats to a new litter or box. It may seem a little weird or gross, but it has worked for many cats and cat owners. This involves taking some of your cat’s feces from the old litter or old litter box and adding it into the new litter or new litter box. This creates a positive association for them. It signals to them that this is where they do their “business”, making them more comfortable as it smells like them.

Another great tool when trying to get them accustomed to a new litter or litter box is positive reinforcement. It can be a great addition to any litter or litter box transition. It may seem silly but rewarding your cat after using the litter box helps associate that behaviour to treats or attention, encouraging them to keep using it. This is especially helpful and effective if they are highly food motivated.

Extra Tips and Tricks

If your cat is going outside the box, is it always best to visit your veterinarian and rule out any underlying condition such as a UTI, crystals, or a blockage. It is always best to catch urinary problems as early as possible to prevent the irritability and pain they are feeling. It provides a great peace of mind before you tackle to task of changing litters or litter boxes to find your solution.

If you are unsure of which litter your cat will like most, you can fill two separate boxes with different litter. Over a few days keep track of which box they seem to be using the most or visiting the most. This process will give you great insight on their preferences.

It is also a good idea to avoid too many big changes at once. If you do choose to change the litter, you should keep the box and box location the same. Too many changes at once can overwhelm and stress out your cat leading to them refusing any of the changes. Keep this in mind if there are changes to their general environment as well, like adding a new family member, doing home renovations, or moving. It is best to avoid changing their box or litter if you are in any of those situations.

Are you having a problem with tracking? Litter with larger granules and top-entry boxes help cut down on tracking. Litter mats set up outside the box can also help with tracking as it catches the litter while the cat walks across and can also catch any being thrown out of the entrance.

If you do happen to choose a cat litter or litter box that helps cut down on the daily scooping, keep in mind that our biggest clue into our cats’ health is in their litter box. It can show us if they are having digestive issues like constipation or diarrhea, or urinary problems that lead to blood in the urine. Regularly checking the litter box also lets us know that there may be a gastrointestinal or urinary blockage by the absence of feces and urine. The earlier these issues are caught, the better, and may even be life saving. Whether you need to scoop daily or not, you should always check the litter box(es) regularly to stay up to date on their health.

In the end, our cat(s) are the final judge. If they continuously refuse to use the box or litter, no matter how much we want them to use it, it is time to try something else.

If you are struggling or have questions, please don’t hesitate to ask our healthy pet care specialists in store. They are happy to help come up with solution together that meets everyone’s needs.

Is free feeding your cat the best option?

Free feeding cats is a very common practice in many households, but just because it is common does not mean it is the best option.

Indoor Cats are typically not Highly Active

Typical indoor cats are not considered “highly active,” rather they are more often a moderate or low activity level. Living indoors simply does not provide the space or stimulation that cats are adapted to. In an environment that lacks stimulation, cats will often eat when there is nothing else to occupy them. Free feeding makes it easy for indoor cats to consume more calories than they are expending, leading to weight gain and possible obesity.

Cats are not natural Grazers

When food is always available, you may see your cat eating at a variety of times throughout the day. Although it seems like your cat is grazing all day, picking out just a few kibbles here and there, in reality they are eating meals. Having a full bowl of food available 24 hours a day allows cats to eat many full meals in a day, often more meals than they should based on their energy expenditure.

Food Intake is an important Indicator of Health

Cats are very stoic and often do not present signs of illness that are obvious to us. A loss of appetite or reduced food intake can be a helpful early indicator of disease. Early detection of illness increases the chance of successful treatment. When cats are free-fed, it can be difficult to see when consumption has declined.

Cats prefer Fresh Food

When we set food out in a bowl, the oxygen in the air begins to degrade (oxidize) the fat in the diet. Cats are very sensitive to oxidized fat; even a slight breakdown in the structures decreases palatability, leading to a less enjoyable eating experience for cats.

Weight management relies on proper Measurement

When free fed cats begin to gain excess weight, creating a weight loss plan can be tough because it is difficult to know how many calories the cat has been consuming each day making it a challenge to restrict calories. When weight management diets (lower calorie diets) are free fed, cats will typically consume a higher volume of food, resulting in minimal, if any, calorie reduction.

Tips for transitioning to Meal Feeding

When cats are accustomed to having food always available, they end up on their own schedule which might not align with yours.

Measure out half of the day’s food and set it out in the morning, allowing the cat to eat on their own schedule. In the evening, serve the other half of the day’s food.

Adding canned food to the meal can encourage consumption right away and your cat will get use to the new schedule.

Engaging in play stimulates feline appetite, so spend some time interacting with your cat prior to meal time.

Meal feeding promotes Health

Feeding meals instead of free feeding can increase your cat’s health and prevent things such as obesity, which is a precursor for many feline diseases. Feed your cat fresh, appropriately sized meals to enhance their enjoyment and health.

Keep Your Cat Healthy

Cats are fascinating animals. They are fun, loving and intuitive, but they can also be temperamental and unpredictable.


A bored cat may become destructive and aggressive, and result in excessive grooming or inappropriate litter box use, ie. urinate in other areas of your home.


Caring for a cat is a big responsibility as it’s difficult to keep them healthy in the same manner as dogs, who head outside for walks every day.  Many pet parents keep their cats indoors for safety reasons (it helps to reduce death, injury and disease), which can pose other health risks for them if they’re not receiving enough physical and mental stimulation.


Cats need more than just the basic – food, water, litter pan.  While your cat may do a great deal of sleeping it`s critical that you provide regular mental stimulation and exercise, which will enhance their living environment and help them live a happy and healthy life.


The onus is on you, and/or other members of your family, to help indoor cats keep their minds alert and sharp.  Failure to do so may cause your cat physical and emotional stress which in turn can lead to physical health issues.


Keep your cat active by creating a stimulating environment with these tips below:


And finally, the greatest stimulation that you can provide your cat is simply spending time with them each and every day.  This special time will improve your cat’s quality of life.  Research shows that spending 30 minutes of quality time with a cat can calm your nerves and boost your mood. Time spent with a cat can increase your body’s production of serotonin, a chemical that boosts feelings of well-being, and decrease your cortisol levels.  Like high pressure, cortisol is caused by stress which may lead to high cholesterol and hypertension. Not only will the quality time spent with your cat keep you healthier, but your cat will  benefit greatly from the time spent with you too!