Pet meds to help a cat with the sniffles

Antibiotics are the typical first line of treatment for cats with a respiratory infection

One of the most frustrating conditions encountered by feline guardians is chronic upper respiratory signs, consisting of varying degrees of sneezing, nasal discharge and congestion/sinus obstruction to varying degrees of eye discharge. While this is most commonly seen in cats and kittens in high stress, crowded situations such as the outdoor stray population, and in shelters or pet shop situations, it can also occur in overcrowded purebred catteries as well.

The typical first line of treatment often used by veterinarians in most of these cats include prescription antibiotics like Clavamox, Baytril, and Doxycycline, as well as topical antibiotics for the eyes such as Terramycin. While most cats seemingly respond to these treatments, it is important to realize that in those cats who do respond, it is likely a secondary bacterial infection from bacteria such as mycoplasma, bordetella, feline chlamydia or feline bartonella to which they are  responding. In those cats that either have relapses, don’t respond to antibiotics completely, or develop chronic life long symptoms of the airways and eyes, most of these cats are usually suffering from feline herpes virus, known as feline rhinotracheitis virus, and feline calici virus.

In any cats suffering from any chronic infection, it is also important to rule out feline leukemia virus and FIV virus with a simple blood test at your veterinarian’s office. And while most vets rely on injectable feline rhinotracheitis virus and feline calicivirus in trying to prevent disease in these cats, many veterinary immunologic experts feel that the injectable form of these vaccinations does not help prevent infection significantly at all, and in fact I have seen an activation and/or worsening of feline rhinotracheitis virus or feline herpes virus after using the injectable form of the vaccination. This is one of those vaccinations, that if you are going to use it, that giving it intranasally works much better than the injectable vaccination mentioned here.

While there is active ongoing research on newer drugs and products on the horizon to hopefully help these struggling chronically infected cats, there are little controlled studies on current effective drugs to treat these cats.  I find a more holistic approach seems to work better using immune boosters such as interferon, as well as supplements like Echinacea and goldenseal used periodically on a week on/week off regimen, as well as using an amino acid called L-Lysine which has helped a certain percentage of cats infected with feline rhinotracheitis virus or feline herpes virus.

Vetri-DMG liquid can also help to varying degrees in some cats.  The company VetriScience recently came out with a wonderful chewable combination of DMG and L-lysine known as Vetri-Lysine, which I have found quite useful in some cats. There is also an excellent company called Standard Process which makes wonderful feline specific supplements to boost and support the whole body and immune system.  Transfer factor is another outstanding immune booster that I have seen help many of these infected cats. While this virus is not contagious to people, many cats can remain carriers of this herpes virus for a lifetime (as occurs in human herpes) and can activate anytime at a  later date , often after a physical or emotional stress, including vaccination with the injectable form of the feline rhinotracheitis vaccination.

Given time and patience, most cats ultimately will become relatively asymptomatic, seemingly clearing the infection on their own, as their own immune system eventually controls the herpes virus. However, there is a population of cats who develop chronic frustrating nasal and eye symptoms that are difficult to treat; thus the suggestion of some of the complimentary therapies mentioned here.

It is also helpful that during a respiratory flare-up that feline guardians place their cats in a cool or warm air humidified environment (such as steamy bathroom) for several minutes a few times a day, which can help loosen up nasal and airway secretions. This is called nebulization. Some of these cats will also eventually develop symptoms of gingivitis and gum issues, and oral ulcers, as both feline herpes rhinotracheitis virus, as well as feline calicivirus, have been incriminated as two of the many factors involved in oral disease in cats as well.

While the scenario I have depicted above may sound quite ominous, even in cats with chronic respiratory symptoms, other than being chronic snufflers, and guardians needing to get used to living with cats that often do make a mess around the house from their nasal discharges, most of these cats do live a full life, and just need periodic intermittent nursing care in the majority of those chronically infected and as outlined in this blog.

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  1. My husband & I fostered litters of orphan kittens for about 20 years. We would get them in different stages of health, of course. One of the products I found to work well with breathing issues is called Vet-Rx by Goodwinol. I would set up a humidifier in the bathroom and set them in there for 5+ minutes. I “baby-sat” a 3 year old Tom that had been injured (and not received care prior to me) and we renamed him Snots, for obvious reasons, poor guy. The “week or so” turned into 7 years. I would stick him in the bath with the VetRx and he loved it. If he heard me getting it out, he would just about knock me over, racing me to the bath. And he would stay in there for 20 minutes sometimes, even after we would open the door to let him out. I now have a 12 yr old female, who been tested negative for everything and still gets congested, periodically. Been the prescription route. Gonna try L-lysine

  2. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianDecember 21, 2013 at 10:39 pm

    Lysine worth a shot, but I have found prescription zithromax quite effective in helping control chronic upper respiratory infections in cats, daily initially then 2 to 3 times weekly after. Also consider transfer factor plus from as well as DMG liquid from 1800petmeds.

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