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Diagnosing Upper Respiratory Infections

Source: PetWave, Updated on July 16, 2015
Upper Respiratory Infections


Feline upper respiratory tract infections are most commonly diagnosed based upon the cat’s history and observable symptoms. Bacterial and viral blood and tissue cultures may be used to identify the specific cause of an upper respiratory infection.

How to Diagnose Upper Respiratory Tract Infections in Cats

Cats with upper respiratory tract infections display classic clinical signs, regardless of the underlying cause of the disorder. Most veterinarians are well-acquainted with these symptoms, and they often are able to diagnose a respiratory tract infection based only upon the cat’s history and a thorough physical examination. To rule out other possible causes of the cat’s symptoms, many veterinarians recommend taking a blood sample and performing a complete blood count and serum biochemistry panel. A urine sample and urinalysis, and blood tests for feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), are also part of the diagnostic process. Thoracic radiographs (chest X-rays), and possibly a computed tomography (CT) scan, are also available to help assess, identify or rule-out particular causes of feline upper respiratory disease.

The cat’s history plays an extremely important role in the diagnosis of respiratory tract illness. Cats that live in overcrowded conditions (sometimes seen in animal shelters or commercial catteries) have a heightened risk of developing respiratory infections. Unvaccinated cats, especially those that live outdoors and are free-roaming, also have an increased risk of developing respiratory illness. Owners who adopt a cat or kitten from a shelter or pet store frequently notice signs of respiratory disease shortly after they bring their new pet home. They should consult a veterinarian as soon as possible if this happens.

Feline herpesvirus and calicivirus can only be positively identified through specialized blood and tissue tests. These are not always readily available in time to be of much use in making treatment decisions. Fortunately, specific identification of the causative agent is normally not necessary in cats with respiratory infections. The symptoms, and the treatment, usually are the same regardless of the underlying cause, and many veterinarians do not feel that identification of the causative organism is necessary for the cat’s successful recovery and treatment. It may be worthwhile to identify the precise infective organism in breeding animals. Tissue and blood cultures can be helpful in those cases.

Special Notes

Upper respiratory tract infections are common in companion cats. When a cat starts sneezing, coughing and draining watery or goopy secretions from its eyes, nose and/or mouth, the owner should consult a veterinarian promptly. There is no one test available for diagnosing upper respiratory infections in cats. A diagnosis is most often based upon the cat’s symptoms and history. In some cases, additional tests may be performed to ensure that the cat does not have an underlying medical condition that is contributing to the clinical symptoms.

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Disorders Similar to Upper Respiratory Infections

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