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The Cure for Kitten Colds

March 17, 2013

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“Why is my Kitten Hacking Like She has a Hairball?”

dilute calico long-haired healthy cat with bright green eyes looks up at the camera like it has a treat attached to it!

Healthy bright eyes!

Mrs. Lynch bustled into the examination room with purpose and efficiency. The 4 pound ball of Ragdoll fluff peered out of a brand-new, fully labelled cat carrier. A soft cotton baby blanket, 2 brightly colored, handmade cat toys, and exactly 5 morsels of untouched cat treats rested under and around Matilda’s fat, fuzzy Ragdoll paws. Doc Truli could tell Mrs. Lynch was conscientious, precise, and thorough in providing everything her kitten could ever want. A sick kitten felt like a condemnation of her kitten mothering skills.

“Doc, Matilda was fine ever since we brought her home from the shelter last week. Until last night, she started this hacking. Then she would retch and some spit came up. I asked my friends and they said it sounded like a hairball. But that doesn’t sound right to me. She’s only 12 weeks old,” said Mrs Lynch, Matilda’s new human.

“You were right,” said Doc Truli.”Matilda has tracheobronchitis, otherwise known as bordetella, or kennel cough. It’s basically like a cold for cats.”

Doc Truli lightly ran her fingers down Matilda’s furry cream-colored neck. Then back up under her chin. Whenever Doc’s fingers brushed over Matilda’s voice box, the kitten swallowed hard, almost like she might throw up.

“Matilda’s got a sore throat,” said Doc.

“How could she get that?” said Mrs Lynch. “Was there something I should have done to prevent it?”

“You rescued her from the county shelter. Cats and kittens in a populous environment like a shelter will share there bacteria and viruses through the air and sometimes the bowls and litter pans. Most cats and kittens coming from a rescue shelter will break with cold symptoms within 7-14 days of coming home,” said Doc Truli. “They will also spread these colds to cats at home.”

Symptoms of Upper Respiratory and Tracheobronchitis in a Feline

If a kitten curls up asleep in a vet appointment, he's either very relaxed or sick.

Disinterested, sleepy kitten.

If your cat is holding one or both eyes shut, it is a sign of pain.

Sign your cat’s eye hurts.

If you lightly pinch the skin over the shoulders , if your cat is dehydrated, you will feel the skin stay in a pinched or folded position and not smooth out.

Dehydration makes a sick cat much worse.

Always consult a veterinarian to diagnose your kitten or cat. You would be surprised some of the misdiagnosis! Here’s a list of symptoms of upper respiratory disease in kittens. Your veterinarian helps you put the symptoms together properly to make a diagnosis.

Symptoms of a kitty cold:

  • Lethargy (tiredness, disinterest)
  • Sneezing
  • Runny eyes, with or without yellow or green discharge
  • swollen, red eyelids
  • clogged nostrils
  • runny nose
  • dehydration
  • not eating
  • hacking or gagging
  • gurgley or raspy breathing
  • weight loss

Curing a Cat’s Cold

Fluid therapy can help a cat overcome a severe cold.

Fluid therapy can help a cat overcome a severe cold.

This cat has her head buried in the food bowl. If your cat is sick, make sure she eats well.

Be certain your cat with a cold eats well.

The main reason a kitten or cat gets a cold at the shelter is because of stress. Mixing so many cats in a space, being homeless, changes in food and schedule, changes in cat litter, or restriction for cats used to roaming all all stressors that can lower a cat’s immunity and contribute to expression of disease symptoms.

Most shelters in the United States will test for feline leukemia virus in all intakes and feline immunosuppressive T-virus (feline aids) in cats 6 months old and older. These viruses will make a cat much more susceptible to sever illness.

So the ultimate cure for the cold will be TLC, good food, good air, clean dishes, and low stress in your home environment.

Common medical treatments for a kitty cold include:

  • prescription antibiotics
  • L-Lysine amino acid supplements for herpes viral infections
  • hydration therapy (sq fluids, IV fluids)
  • nebulization therapy with sodium chloride and prescription medicines
  • painkillers to help if there is throat pain
  • yummy, boosted foods to tempt a cat into eating
  • nursing care, unclogging nostrils, cleaning eyes

Signs of Big Trouble with a Kitty Cold

  • Not eating
  • Not drinking
  • More diseases, like diarrhea at the same time

Please, consult your local veterinarian to help prevent your cat or kitten from getting sicker.  Follow their advice for nursing care. Hospitalize your kitten if you cannot perform the nursing duties at home. Respiratory disease in cats often required as much nursing care as medicines!

When your kitty feels better, you can expect a normal, happy cat. (Certain viruses, like herpes, stay dormant in the nerve ganglia and can cause recurrent symptoms during times of stress like surgeries. Ask your veterinarian about your future responsibilities.)

VirtuaVet has more helpful stories related to nursing a sick cat or kitten:

When to Force or syringe-feed a sick cat

How to syringe-feed a sick cat

How to tell dehydration in a cat

How to give your cat a pill

How to get pain medication into your cat

A soft fluffy ragdoll cat looks vaguely distraced. She will be talkative and affectionate at home.

Healthy, alert baby-doll faced ragdoll cat.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Sandra permalink
    April 13, 2013 4:23 am

    Thanks for the information! My 10-year-old cat has been experiencing some of these symptoms, but the vet has not been very helpful in diagnosing…just taking my money. I had urinalysis and blood work done, but the only thing they could tell me was that something was slightly elevated, which could indicate a virus…and for $75 they could give her two shots to see if that fixed the problem, or they could do an ultrasound for $200!!

    A few weeks ago, I noticed some greenish/yellowish gunk coming out of her eye, and she was squinting a little bit. I took her in and they gave me some gel to put in her eye. After a week, it got better, and went away for a few days. Around the same time, I tried to change the litter brand (clay to corncob), the vet told us to stop giving her wet food (so we started with only the dry food again), and some other symptoms appeared. I don’t think she has been using the litter box (we have two cats, so it’s hard to tell–and I think it started before I changed the brand), her honches were wet with urine (she is usually a VERY clean cat), she’s become very lethargic, isn’t eating or drinking much, she’s been hiding under the bed and not moving for HOURS (I’m talking 8 hours), and then a few days ago she started licking her lips (like she had a bad taste or was nauseated). I took her back to the vet earlier this week because the gunk in her eyes reappeared and the other symptoms weren’t getting better; they took blood out of her legs and neck, and put a syringe in her bladder for a sample. Since then, she has been hiding more, and really hates the litter box. The last time I saw her use the box was when I brought her home from the vet and she trickled out some urine and there was blood in it, which the vet failed to mention would happen. Naturally, I was pretty freaked out.

    I’ve tried to put water with some tastier wet food to get her some hydration, and changed the litter back to what she was used to, but other than that, I’m out of ideas! Any ideas would be appreciated! I just don’t have the money to waste on any more of my vet’s “ideas”; I want my poor kitty to feel better because it’s breaking my heart!!

    • April 13, 2013 5:25 pm

      Dear Sandra,
      I doubt your cat has a cold. First, because they are contagious, so she would have to be around other cats. I’ll bet she wasn’t. Second, I have never had a cat urinate blood after the urine test because of the test. I’ll bet it’s your #1 symptom. Your kitty sounds very sick. I hope she feels better soon!

      I was going to write a story about what a “minimum database” is in veterinary medicine. Usually , it is a complete blood count, serum 12 or 25 chemistry panel and a urinalysis. It costs about 4-5x the cost of the consultation (so if your vet charges US$40, the minimum database should be about $200).

      While that seems like a lot of tests and money, there are literally 100’s of specialty tests. Your kitty might need some of those tests to find what’s wrong.

      If you do not have confidence in your veterinarian, I recommend asking for a referral to a specialist. Many times, I think people make an appointment at another general practice to get a fresh perspective. This can work, but if you want to really know what tests you might need, a specialist can save you money by focussing the scope of the tests.

      Good luck!
      -Doc Truli

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