I have several of my 5 month old kittens that have had colds for a few weeks now, and they have been sneezing and having runny noses. My vet told me to give them Benadryl, but it gags them. Is there anything else that I can give them? I am unable to bring them to the vet at this time.

Peggy
Tylertown, MS

Five-month-old kittens, especially those living in households with multiple cats, are prone to upper respiratory infections (URIs).

URIs may cause sneezing or nasal discharge. They may cause puffy, watery, swollen eyes. Cats with upper respiratory infections often cough. In short, cats with upper respiratory infections often look like they have colds.

Dozens, or perhaps hundreds of different pathogens cause upper respiratory infections in cats. The most common culprits sound like (but aren’t) venereal diseases. Feline herpes (not contagious to humans) and Chlamydia (also not contagious to us) are major players.

Upper respiratory infections are quite opportunistic. They frequently affect young cats with immature immune systems. They are common in cats that live in multi-cat households (the presence of other cats tends to create stress for each individual cat; stress weakens the immune system).

Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is an antihistamine. It can be very helpful for humans suffering from watery eyes and sneezing caused by allergies. In my experience it is not effective against URIs in cats.

Upper respiratory infections most often resolve when the affected cats’ immune systems muster an adequate response. Nursing care is the key to helping cats recover from this problem.

Make sure that each kitten gets plenty of food, water, and love. Use moistened tissues to remove mucus from their noses and eyes. Consider placing them in a warm, humid environment twice each day–this helps to break up respiratory secretions so that they can be eliminated. The easiest (and most pleasurable) way to do this is to place the kittens in the bathroom while you take a long, hot, steamy shower.

Oral supplementation with a natural amino acid, L-lysine, may help kittens recover from herpes, the most common cause of URIs in kittens and cats. Your vet should be able to help you find an L-lysine supplement that is appropriate for your kittens.

Patience matters. Like humans with colds, kittens with URIs often recover slowly.