In general, the treatment of an upper respiratory infection is mostly aimed at alleviating the discomfort of your pet's symptoms. Take your pet to the veterinarian if symptoms persist for 2 or 3 days, just to be sure it is indeed an upper respiratory infection, and not something else. Once you know what you're dealing with, an upper respiratory infection should run its course over a couple of days or several weeks at most.
If the symptoms continue for longer than a month, another visit to the vet is definitely necessary, since it’s likely your pet has developed a secondary infection.
Keeping Pets With a URI Comfortable
Here are some of the helpful ways that you can diminish the impact of your pet’s symptoms from an upper respiratory infection:
Discharge from the Eyes
Watery or mucous-like secretion from your pet’s eyes can be gently removed by wiping with a warm, damp rag. Vets may also prescribe an ointment to ease this symptom.
Loss of Appetite
Congestion, and a difficulty smelling food, can lead to cats and dogs having a diminished appetite. Try to temp pets to eat by warming up food, providing wet food, baby food, or generally making meals more appealing. If pets simply aren't eating, you can use a syringe to provide food.
Similarly, if pets are not drinking sufficient amounts of water, the vet may advise subcutaneous injections of fluids.
Keeping pets in warm, moist air for a short time can help ease difficulties with breathing. Try a brief stint in the bathroom with the shower running hot water, or use a humidifier.
A main symptom for dogs can be a dry and unproductive cough, so suppressants can help make dogs more comfortable. Anti-inflammatory drugs can also be helpful by easing the irritation to the throat.
Eliminating exercise and helping create a restful, stress-free atmosphere is very important for pets that are under the weather. For dogs with kennel cough, removing the collar or any restraints on the dog’s neck will reduce pain or irritation to that area.
If a secondary infection is suspected, antibiotics may be prescribed. Antibiotics are the big guns, brought out when a URI develops into pneumonia or another secondary health infection.
Visiting the Vet
When you take your pet to the vet with the basic symptoms of an upper respiratory infection, your vet will ask some background questions, like if your pet has been in contact with other pets, come from a shelter, or been housed in a kennel or other crowded area.
Most likely, the vet will not be concerned with tracking down the particular bacteria or virus causing your pet's symptoms, since treatment is consistent and similar regardless of the precise cause of the URI. The vet will likely perform a physical to help get a sense of your pet's general health. Blood tests may also be done, and x-rays will be given if pneumonia seems likely. With cats, vets test to eliminate the possibility of feline leukemia or feline AIDS. Since heartworms and heart disease can cause coughing as a symptom, vets may administer some additional tests.
Because upper respiratory infections are so highly contagious, at-home treatment is best since it reduces opportunities for the infection to spread. If you have other pets at home, make sure to isolate the sick pet, and any bedding, toys, or common items. If your cat or dog's upper respiratory infection lasts for a long time, or if a high fever develops, a stay in the hospital might be necessary to get symptoms under control, and to treat or prevent secondary infections.
More on Respiratory Issues in Pets
How to Treat Asthma in Cats and Dogs
Causes of Allergies in Pets
This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.