Sneezy Shelter Cats - Feline URI
Feline upper respiratory infection is a highly contagious but rarely fatal disease caused by both virus and bacteria.
You've probably seen the telltale signs at shelters: Runny eyes, sneezing, and nasal discharge. The cats are usually listless and tired, and often do not want to eat nor drink and in danger of being dehydrated.
It can spread swiftly through the enclosed, stressful, and crowded shelter environment. This is why at a shelter they ask staff, volunteers and visitors to sanitize their hands in between handling each cat or kitten. Even the most conscientiously run shelter will suffer from occasional outbreaks.
The shelter must have the resources to reduce crowding, isolate the sick animals and provide nursing care and treatment or place the cats in foster care until they are cured of clinical signs in order to prevent a shelter wide outbreak which can sadly lead to euthanasia to stop the outbreak. Another reason fosters are such life savers! Feline URI is not a danger to people.
Before a healthy cat is placed in the area vacated by a sick cat moved into the clinic or foster to get well, the entire kennel must be thoroughly cleaned with not only soap and hot water - including the bars, sides, bottoms and tops. Litter pans also need to be thoroughly sterilized, along with food and water bowls. Any bedding from the sick animal must go to the laundry.
Common household bleach is one of the most effective and inexpensive disinfectants available for shelters - this is why you often see tweets or Facebook posts asking for donations of bleach or see it on shelter wishlists. The bleach should be diluted 1:32 with warm water.
If you are visiting or volunteering at a shelter and notice these signs, find a staff member and report the Animal ID and symptoms before you leave. Sanitize your hands before handling or petting another cat. Consider fostering that animal to help it get well. If you decide to foster, the shelter will usually have you work with their Vet or local Vet clinic for the treatment needed - antibiotics, possibly fluids and nebulizing treatments. At home care may consist of giving antibiotics or eye creams, and gently wiping discharge with a moist tissue. Although viral infections do not respond to antibacterial drugs, broad spectrum antibacterial drugs are sometimes prescribed to prevent secondary bacterial infections.
As someone who has both fostered and adopted cats with this, I can tell you they get well much faster in a home environment where they are less stressed.