Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on January 24, 2014. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Pets can get respiratory infection year-round
JACKSON – Winter means cold and flu season is in full swing for humans, but pets can experience similar illnesses all year long.
“Upper respiratory infection is not prevalent during a certain time of year because most cases are caused by viruses, which are present year-round,” said Dr. Christine Bryan, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences at the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine. “Patients can relapse during times of stress, other illness, injury, or in inadequate or overcrowded housing conditions, such as a shelter.”
Symptoms include sneezing, runny eyes, nasal discharge, cough, fever, nose and mouth ulcers, and hoarse voice. The symptoms usually last seven to 14 days.
Infected animals spread the viruses through secretions from the eyes, nose and mouth, and can even shed the viruses when no symptoms are present. Airborne viruses can be transmitted between animals in close quarters. Human caretakers can also spread the disease from animal to animal through infected secretions on their clothes and shoes, Bryan said.
Cats are more often affected, but dogs are also at risk. The most common viruses and bacteria that cause respiratory infections are specific to cats and dogs and are not passed between the two. However, some illnesses, such as Bordatella infection, commonly called kennel cough, can be shared between dogs and cats.
Humans with compromised immune systems can contract some of the viruses responsible for respiratory disease in pets. The virus that causes the common cold in humans does not affect cats or dogs, Bryan said.
While pet lovers may struggle seeing their pets so uncomfortable, a viral infection usually will resolve on its own. But sometimes infected animals require veterinary care.
“Sometimes antibiotics are needed to treat bacterial infections that develop as a result of the initial viral infection,” Bryan said. “Other times anti-virals may be used, depending on which virus is responsible for the illness.”
Pets should see a veterinarian anytime symptoms persist for longer than a couple of days, they stop eating, run fever or begin open-mouthed-breathing. Open-mouthed-breathing is especially concerning in cats, Bryan said.
When animals show signs of illness, the best way to keep them comfortable is to provide good nursing care, said Dr. Pat Hidalgo, veterinarian at Amory Animal Hospital.
“Keep the eyes and nose clean and make sure they are eating and drinking,” she said. “Cats are smell eaters. If they can’t breathe, they won’t eat. Cat owners can try heating canned food or baby food mixed with some water to help entice a congested cat to eat. There are also medications that can ease the symptoms for both cats and dogs.”
Ideally, pet caretakers should quarantine animals with signs of respiratory infection, especially cats, Hidalgo said.
“Recovering cats can still be a source of infection to other cats even after they seem to have recovered from a respiratory infection,” Hidalgo said. “They can sometimes shed the virus for weeks after they stop showing signs of an active infection.”
Caretakers should wash their hands after handling or feeding a sick animal. Gloves, gowns and shoe covers can also limit the spread of illness.
Once the quarantined animal no longer shows signs of illness, it is important to clean the crates, bedding, toys and food and water bowls of the sick animal because the viruses can live on objects for several days. A bleach solution is best, but warm, soapy water is also effective, Hidalgo said.
People should separate any new animal they bring into their household from existing pets.
“If adopting an animal from the shelter or taking in a stray, it’s a good idea to keep the new animal isolated from other family pets until he or she can be seen by the veterinarian,” Hidalgo said. “Just like in humans, viruses have an incubation period from the time the animal was exposed and contracted the illness until the time the animal starts showing signs.”
Contact: Karen Templeton, (662) 325-1100