Eye & Nose Discharge

Infectious upper respiratory diseases can linger & run rampant in multiple cat households.



I have a litter of white kittens  who are approximately 3 months old plus 6 cats. They have never been outside but they have developed a discharge from their eyes and scabs around their noses. Only two of them are infected. They have not had any shots as of yet. Their behavior has not changed and they run and play and eat really well. And now another cat is getting the same symptoms. I am concerned it might be distemper even though they never go outside


Dr. Nichol:

I think I can help you with your herd health problem. Herd health? A herd of cats? Sounds absurd doesn’t it? In a way it is. Think about dogs running in a pack or birds on the wing in a flock or livestock being moved as a herd. But cats don’t behave that way do they? The reason that cats don’t exhibit group behavior is that unlike most other species cats are not community animals. So when they are kept in a group such as yours they are in an unnatural living arrangement. The result is stress that, in the case of your cats, shows up as physical disease.


This is not to say that cats kept alone live more meaningful lives. But for indoor cats to have symptoms of infectious disease means that someone sometime brought it into the group from the outside. That someone has had a smoldering infection for a while-what’s called a carrier state. No symptoms, no discharge, no scabs. Then along comes a litter of vulnerable kittens and one after the other they start to get sick.


Now that you understand the problem let’s help your kitties out of this mess. The infectious cause of the upper respiratory symptoms is likely to be a virus called feline viral rhinotracheitis. Other complicating organisms may include calici virus, chlamydia, and bacteria. Drugs like antibiotics can be helpful in controlling the bacteria (the “groupies” of upper respiratory infections of cats). But for the most part your best defense will be good nursing care like keeping their little noses free of snot, and providing ginger ale and videos until they feel well enough to go back to school. In other words it has to run its course.


I know that I make it sound easy-just wait it out. The truth is that if you continue with this crowded living arrangement you may never be rid of it. I mean NEVER-remember the carrier state in a herd of cats? So the morale of the story is: Find homes for all of the kittens where they will each be the only pet. Next give your adult cats more space i.e. keep only one indoors. The forces of nature are at odds with your cat management. And you know that it’s not nice to fool mother nature.