Cyndi Condit holds Tyson, a male 4-month-old kitten, at her home in Maumee. Ms. Condit is fostering Tyson until his upper respiratory infection clears up and he can be adopted out.
Tyson picked the right person to find him.
The stray kitten had a severe upper respiratory infection and was covered in lice when Cyndi Condit’s sister brought him to her after her dog discovered him and was carrying him in his mouth.
Ms. Condit of Maumee is the marketing and special events manager for the Toledo Area Humane Society. Like many animal lovers, her friends and family frequently call on her to help with animal situations.
She watched the little black kitten overnight and he seemed to be no worse for the wear from being carried by the dog. She had a veterinarian at the humane society examine him the next day. He was sneezing and had watery eyes. The cold and the lice probably resulted from a weakened immune system from an inadequate diet and the stress of being a stray, Ms. Condit said.
Tyson has been treated with antibiotics and likely will be cleared to go up for adoption this week.
“He is the sweetest kitten ever,” Ms. Condit said. “He is very people-oriented. He likes to sit on my chest and loves to sleep on my shoulder.”
Upper respiratory illness is extremely common in animal shelters where it spreads like the common cold, said Dr. Deb Johnson, a veterinarian and director of operations at the Toledo Area Humane Society.
“It is nearly ubiquitous in shelters, which are similar environments to day-care centers for children,” she said.
The two most common causes of feline URI, accounting for 80-90 percent of cases, are Feline Herpes virus and Feline Calicivirus, Dr. Johnson said.
“In shelter cats, Herpes virus appears to be more closely linked to shelter URI,” she said. “Other less common primary causes are bacterial species including Chlamydophila, Mycoplasma, and Bordetella. Cats with primary viral URI may also suffer from a variety of secondary bacterial infections.”
The signs of infection with any one of the possible agents of URI are similar.
“All can cause sneezing and [eye] and nasal inflammation and discharge,” she said. “Contrary to popular belief, aerosol transmission is not a significant means of spread for URI. Feline URI is much more readily spread via [contaminated objects] and droplet transmission [over distances of 5 feet or less], or via reactivation of latent herpes virus due to stress.”
If the URI is mild or thought to be viral in nature, treatment is not always necessary, Dr. Johnson said.
For example, with mild sneezing or nasal discharge that is clear in color, the shelter will usually take a wait-and-see approach.
“More significant infections are generally treated with oral antibiotics,” she said. Treatment might also include ophthalmic antibiotics if ocular signs are present.
“Severe cases could require more aggressive treatment, including nebulization therapy, antiviral drugs, and IV fluids, especially if a cat has stopped eating,” Dr. Johnson said.
Most mild cases of upper respiratory illness resolve in 10-14 days, but if stress levels are high symptoms can linger for weeks. A severe case could cause damage to the nasal structure and results in chronic problems, but that is rare. Cats with the Herpes virus may go through periods of a new outbreak after a period of inactivity and also develop ocular signs intermittently.
Vaccination does not prevent infection or development of a carrier state for any URI pathogen, and many strains of Feline Calcivirus are vaccine-resistant, she said. “At best, vaccination reduces severity and duration of disease.”
Modified live vaccines containing Feline Herpes virus, Feline Calicivirus, and Feline Panleukopenia are available. Even with those products, two vaccinations 2-3 weeks apart are required for full protection against the respiratory viruses.
URI in cats is similar to kennel cough in dogs in that both can be caused by a virus, a bacteria, or a combination of the two pathogens. Both are indicated by upper respiratory symptoms, with “kennel cough” or Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex usually causing a dry, honking cough as the primary symptom. A Bordetella vaccination can reduce the risk of getting most strains of the illness.
In a shelter setting, besides vaccination immediately upon entry, the number one preventative against either disease is stress reduction.
“We have seen that firsthand at TAHS,” Dr. Johnson said. “When I first started 11 years ago, we would routinely treat severe cases of Feline URI. We had two rooms of cat isolation, both full at all times. When we made the switch to cage-less cat rooms, we were very worried about disease incidence increasing. We were pleasantly surprised to find that our incidence of URI dropped dramatically, to the point that we now have only four cages for cat isolation, and the majority of the time those cages are empty.”
Contact Tanya Irwin at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6066, or on Twitter @TanyaIrwin.