Upper respiratory infections are all too common amongst pets, especially cats and dogs that are coming from shelters, have stayed in a kennel, have frequent visits to groomers, or spend time in other crowded situations. Even a visit to the dog run can result in a URI, which is contagious in a similar way to the common cold. While upper respiratory infections are uncomfortable for your pet, they do not generally have a long term health impact. There is a risk of secondary infections developing, so pay careful attention to your pet’s behavior, the duration of the URI, and whether your pet gets a fever.
Upper respiratory infections can spread from cat to cat, and dog to dog, and can also spread through contact with secretions from a pet's eyes, nose, or throat. As well, contact with crates or carriers, food dishes, blankets, or toys can also cause pets to contract upper respiratory infections. URIs are caused by either bacteria or viruses.
Typically, upper respiratory infections develop in crowded spots where it’s easy for bacteria and viruses to spread. Stressed out pets are also more likely to get an upper respiratory infection, since stress weakens the immune system.
Symptoms for upper respiratory infections can include sneezes, discharge from eyes, drooling, difficulty breathing, and congestion. For dogs, the most common upper respiratory infection is kennel cough, which is most obviously identified by a dry, loud, persistent cough. Upper respiratory infections in both cats and dogs can lead to a loss of appetite, so it's important to monitor that your pet is getting sufficient food and water.
The main thrust behind treatment is to attack symptoms, in an effort to make pets comfortable while they recover. There is always a risk of a secondary infection, such as pneumonia, developing, so always pay attention to a fever, extreme lethargy, or any other more serious symptom.
It’s often best for treatment of upper respiratory infections to occur at home, since URIs are so incredibly contagious. Of course, if you have multiple pets, aim to keep the infected cat or dog isolated so that there is no transference of the bacteria or virus. If secondary infections occur, or if the URI does not clear up quickly, veterinarians may prescribe antibiotics. In general, the best treatment for upper respiratory infections is aimed at making pets comfortable while they ride out the course of the infection, and can include wiping discharge from your pet’s eyes, providing tempting meals, and using a humidifier to help their breathing. Rest and a stress-free environment are also important for recovery.
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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.