Animal Care

High-Rise Syndrome & Upper Respiratory Infections in Cats

Many pet parents eagerly open their windows to enjoy the weather during the summer months. Unfortunately, unscreened windows pose a real danger to cats, who fall out of them so often that the veterinary profession has a name for the complaint—High-Rise Syndrome. Falls can result in shattered jaws, punctured lungs, broken limbs and pelvises—and even death.

  • Cats have excellent survival instincts, and they don’t deliberately “jump” from high places that would be dangerous. Most cats fall accidentally from high-rise windows, terraces or fire escapes.
  • Cats have an incredible ability to focus their attention on whatever interests them. A bird or other animal attraction can be distracting enough to cause them to lose their balance and fall.
  • Because cats have little fear of heights and enjoy perching in high places, pet owners often assume that they can take care of themselves. Although cats can cling to the bark of trees with their claws, other surfaces are much more difficult, such as window ledges, concrete or brick surfaces.
  • When cats fall from high places, they don’t land squarely on their feet. Instead, they land with their feet slightly splayed apart, which can cause severe head and pelvis injuries.
  • It is a misconception that cats won’t be injured if they fall from one- or two-story buildings. They may actually be at greater risk for injury when falling shorter distances than by falling from mid-range or higher altitudes. Shorter distances do not give them enough time to adjust their body posture to fall correctly.
  • When cats fall from high-rise buildings, they may end up on sidewalks or streets that are dangerous and unfamiliar to them. Never assume that the animal has not survived the fall; immediately rush the animal to the nearest animal hospital or to your veterinarian.
  • There is a 90% survival rate for cats who are high-rise victims if they receive immediate and proper medical attention.

Preventing High-Rise Syndrome

To keep your cat safe during the summer, take the following precautions:

  • Install snug and sturdy screens in all your windows.
  • If you have adjustable screens, please make sure that they are tightly wedged into window frames.
  • Note that cats can slip through childproof window guards—these don’t provide adequate protection!

Upper Respiratory Infections

A cat’s upper respiratory tract—the nose, throat, and sinus area—is susceptible to infections caused by a variety of viruses and bacteria.

Causes of Upper Respiratory Infections

  • Viruses are the most common causes of upper respiratory infections (URIs) in cats.
  • Feline calicivirus and feline herpesvirus account for 80 to 90% of all contagious upper respiratory problems, and are prevalent in shelters, catteries and multi-cat households.
  • These viruses can be transmitted from cat to cat through sneezing, coughing, or while grooming or sharing food and water bowls.
  • Once infected, cats can become carriers for life, and though they may not show clinical signs, they can still transmit the viruses to others.
  • Cats often develop bacterial infections secondary to these common viral infections.
  • There are also upper respiratory infections in cats that are primarily caused by bacteria. Chlamydia and Bordetella—commonly found in shelters and areas with multiple cats—are two such bacterial infections.
  • Less common in cats than dogs, Bordetella is usually associated with stress and overcrowded living conditions.

Preventing Upper Respiratory Infections

  • Keep your cat indoors to minimize the risk of exposure to infected animals.
  • Properly isolate infected cats to protect other pets living in the same environment.
  • Minimize stress.
  • Keep your cat up to date on vaccines as recommended by your vet. Vaccines for upper respiratory disease in cats may not actually prevent infection, but they help lessen the severity of the disease in some cases.
  • Regular veterinary exams and preventative care can help catch and treat problems early. A cat’s best defense against upper respiratory infection is a healthy immune system.
  • Practice good hygiene and wash your hands thoroughly when handling multiple cats.

Symptoms of Upper Respiratory Infections

Symptoms differ depending on the cause and location of the infection, but some common clinical signs of upper respiratory problems in cats include:

  • Sneezing
  • Congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Clear to colored nasal discharge
  • Gagging, drooling
  • Fever
  • Loss of or decreased appetite
  • Rapid breathing
  • Nasal and oral ulcers
  • Squinting or rubbing eyes
  • Open-mouth breathing
  • Depression

Diagnosing Upper Respiratory Infections

  • Age, vaccination status and physical condition all play a role in a cat’s susceptibility to upper respiratory infections.
  • Cats who live in multi-cat households or shelters are most susceptible.
  • Veterinarians have found that stress plays a role in causing outbreaks of URI, and cats in any shelter, cattery or boarding facility are generally experiencing high levels of stress.
  • Cats who have recovered from URI can become carriers, and may experience recurrences when stressed.
  • Certain breeds like Persians and other flat-faced breeds have a predisposition to develop upper respiratory infections due to their facial structure.

It’s important to bring your cat to a veterinarian if you think she may be suffering from an upper respiratory infection. A brief exam by a veterinarian will help to determine if your cat requires medication, has a fever or is dehydrated. Avoid self-diagnosis, since your cat may be infectious and require isolation, antibiotics or additional veterinary care.

Treating Upper Respiratory Infections

Your veterinarian will prescribe the best course of treatment for your cat, which may include:

  • Medications
  • Isolation
  • Rest
  • Support with fluids
  • Nutritional support

Left untreated, some upper respiratory infections can progress to pneumonia or have other serious complications, such as blindness or chronic breathing difficulties.

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The divine scriptures are God’s beacons to the world. Surely God offered His trust to the heavens and the earth, and the hills, but they shrank from bearing it and were afraid of it. And man undertook it.
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