What Causes a URI in Pets? Upper Respiratory Infections in Cats and Dogs

What Causes a URI in Pets?
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vet verified PetCareRx Staff Veterinarian DVM

Upper respiratory infections are highly contagious bacterial or viral organisms that spread very easily amongst cats and dogs. Most animals contract URI while in a crowded location such as a kennel, the groomer's, or a shelter.

Upper respiratory infections are incredibly contagious, spreading easily amongst pets. The infections are caused by either viral or bacterial organisms. The most common organisms that cause upper respiratory infections in cats or dogs are:

  • Feline calicivirus
  • Feline Chlamydia
  • Feline herpesvirus-1
  • Feline reovirus
  • Cowpox virus
  • Mycoplasma
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica
  • Canine influenza virus
  • Canine distemper virus
  • Canine parainfluenza virus infection (CPI)
  • Canine adenovirus Type 2 infection
  • Reovirus
  • Canine adenovirus

Often, pets contract upper respiratory infections at shelters, kennels, boarding locations, and groomers -- the crowded spaces typical in these locations, the poor ventilation, and the number of occupants creates the ideal conditions for bacteria and viruses to spread.

Even in stressful and crowded conditions, some breeds are more likely to contract an upper respiratory infection than others. For instance, Persian cats are more vulnerable to URIs because of the structure of their faces. Similarly, Pugs and other dogs with smushed, flat faces, can also have a heightened risk of upper respiratory infections.

How Do the Infections Spread?

Upper respiratory infections can spread through discharge from eyes, nose, and mouth. As with humans, one sneeze can spread germs in a wide radius. In addition to the secretions exuded from the pet, contact with items that have come in contact with the cat or dog, like a bowl, a cage, or blankets and bedding, can also transfer the infection.

Finally, even once pets are symptom-free from a viral infection, they can continue to be carriers, causing other pets in their vicinity to contract a URI. It's fairly rare for a pet to have the infection more than once, but recurrence can occur if the cat or dog is in a stressful situation.

In general, stress exacerbates the likelihood of pets contracting an infection, as it weakens their immune system. For pets, crowded situations like kennels and shelters can be an unpleasant situation, sometimes causing anxiety. And of course, the crowded conditions lend themselves to the spread of disease. Cats or dogs with upper respiratory infections should be isolated from other pets at home.

Preventing URIs

Vaccinations are one way to prevent upper respiratory infections; although they are not 100 percent effective, it’s generally recommended to provide your pet with a vaccine, particularly prior to boarding or other situations where they will be around a lot of pets. Avoiding kennels and other spots crowded with pets is another good preventative measure, although of course it will not always be possible.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does a URI last in dogs?

The duration of a URI (upper respiratory infection) can vary in dogs, but most cases resolve within 2-3 weeks with proper treatment. However, some cases may last longer and can become chronic if left untreated or if the underlying cause is not addressed. It is important to consult with a veterinarian if your dog is showing signs of a URI, as they can provide a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

How can I tell if my dog has a URI?

To tell if your dog has a URI, look for symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, nasal discharge, and difficulty breathing. Other signs can include a loss of appetite, fever, and lethargy. These symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, so it's always best to consult with a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

How do vets treat URI?

Treatment for a dog's URI will depend on the underlying cause and the severity of the infection. If a bacterial infection is causing the URI, antibiotics will be prescribed to clear the infection. Providing your dog with a warm, humid environment and helping them to stay hydrated can help to relieve symptoms. Medications such as decongestants, antihistamines, and cough suppressants can help to relieve symptoms such as coughing and sneezing. In the case of chronic URI, certain immunomodulatory drugs can be given to help boost the immune system. Preventing the spread of infection is also important to get rid of URI, so it is important to isolate the infected dog and practice good hygiene.

How did my dog get an upper respiratory infection?

The most common cause of URI in dogs is a bacterial or viral infection. Some of the most common pathogens that cause URI are Bordetella bronchiseptica, Canine Adenovirus type 2, Canine Parainfluenza virus, and Canine Influenza virus. URI can also be caused by exposure to irritants such as smoke, pollution, or chemicals. Allergies to things like pollen, mold, or dust mites can also result in upper respiratory infection. The ailment can be the result of trauma to the nasal passages or airways, such as a broken nose or damage from surgery. Stress can also be a contributing factor to the development of URI, as it can weaken the immune system and make the dog more susceptible to infection. Dogs that live in overcrowded conditions, like in shelters or breeding facilities, are at a higher risk of contracting URI. URI can also be caused by other underlying medical conditions, so it's always best to consult with a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

More on Preventing Illness

Preventing and Treating Asthma
How to Prevent Heartworm in Dogs

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.

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