How Long Does Your Cat’s URI Stay Contagious? The Answer May Surprise You

What is a URI?

URI stands for “upper respiratory infection.” It is a contagious viral or bacterial infection that affects a cat’s upper respiratory tract, including the nose, throat, and sinuses (VCA Hospitals).

Common symptoms of URI in cats include:

  • Sneezing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Conjunctivitis (inflammation of the eye)

URI is most often caused by viral infections like feline herpesvirus or calicivirus. It can also be caused by bacterial agents like Chlamydophila felis, Bordetella bronchiseptica, and Mycoplasma felis (PetMD).

URI is similar to the common cold in humans. It causes inflammation and discharge in the mucous membranes of a cat’s nose, throat, and eyes.

How Do Cats Get URI?

URI is highly contagious among cats. The viruses and bacteria that cause URI spread through direct contact between cats, shared objects and surfaces, and airborne transmission from coughing and sneezing. Viruses can survive on surfaces and objects for 24 hours or longer, allowing indirect transmission through fomites like food bowls, litter boxes, and toys. The viruses that cause URI also often spread between cats in the same household or environment before symptoms arise (1).

Some key risk factors that make cats more susceptible to contracting URI include:

  • Living in crowded conditions like shelters or multi-cat households (1)
  • Stressful conditions like recent adoption/rehoming
  • Younger cats and kittens with weaker immune systems (2)
  • Cats with existing illnesses

Feline herpesvirus and calicivirus account for the majority of URI cases. Both spread rapidly through secretions from coughing/sneezing and shared objects. The viruses infect a cat’s upper respiratory tract, causing inflammation and cold-like symptoms (2).


URI Incubation Period

According to ICatCare, the typical incubation period for URI in cats following infection with common pathogens like feline calicivirus (FCV) or feline herpesvirus (FHV) is usually just 2-10 days. After this incubation period, cats will start to show symptoms of upper respiratory illness.

The length of the incubation period can depend on factors like the cat’s age, health status, and immunity. Kittens and older cats may develop symptoms sooner than healthy adult cats. Stress and other illnesses that weaken the immune system can also shorten the incubation period. The strain of the virus and the extent of exposure can also affect how quickly a cat starts showing URI symptoms after the initial infection.

According to JAAX Animal Hospitals, when introducing a new cat into a home with other cats, the new cat often begins exhibiting URI symptoms about 5-7 days after integration. This is due to exposure to novel pathogens they have no prior immunity to that may be present in the environment or carried by the other cats.

How Long Are URI Symptoms Contagious?

URI symptoms in cats are contagious as long as the cat is shedding the virus or bacteria causing the infection. According to the Feline Upper Respiratory Infection Fact Sheet from the San Francisco SPCA, cats with URI can remain contagious for anywhere from 2 weeks up to 4 weeks if not treated with antibiotics[1]. Upper respiratory infections are transmitted primarily through viral particles and bacterial secretions from the eyes, nose and mouth. A URI-infected cat spreads the infection via nasal discharges, sneezing, coughing, which aerosolizes the pathogens, and via contaminated objects like food bowls, bedding and toys.

There are several factors that can affect how long a cat remains contagious with URI symptoms:

  • Which pathogen is causing the infection – viral URIs tend to be more contagious and last longer than bacterial infections
  • Whether the cat is receiving treatment with antibiotics or other medications
  • The cat’s overall health status and immune function
  • Stress factors that could suppress immunity and prolong infection
  • Presence of secondary infections that exacerbate symptoms
  • Environmental contamination where the cat lives

While antibiotics can help shorten the contagious period, it’s important to isolate the sick cat from other pets and continue safe hygiene practices during treatment. Kittens, senior cats or those with weakened immunity may take longer to recover and stop shedding the URI virus or bacteria.


Treating URI

URI is typically treated with antibiotics like doxycycline or azithromycin. According to VCA Hospitals, antibiotics can shorten the duration and reduce the severity of symptoms ( Other medications like decongestants may also be prescribed. It’s important to complete the full course of any antibiotics, even if your cat seems better. As PetMD explains, stopping antibiotics early can lead to recurring infection or antibiotic resistance ( Work closely with your vet to determine the right medications and duration of treatment for your cat’s URI.

Caring for a Cat With URI

Caring for a cat with a URI at home involves keeping your cat comfortable and preventing transmission to other pets. Here are some tips:

To keep your cat comfortable:

  • Provide a warm, quiet place for your cat to rest and recover, like a spare room or bathroom.
  • Make sure your cat has easy access to food, water, and litter.
  • Gently wipe away any nasal or eye discharge with a soft, warm cloth.
  • You can use a humidifier to help loosen mucus secretions.
  • Encourage eating by warming food to enhance smell and flavor.
  • Pet gently if your cat seems receptive, as this can help soothe them.

To prevent transmission:

  • Isolate the infected cat from other pets in the home.
  • Wash hands thoroughly after touching the infected cat before interacting with others.
  • Use separate food bowls, litter boxes, bedding, and toys to avoid sharing germs.
  • Clean and disinfect any shared surfaces like floors or countertops.
  • Launder bedding and wash food/water bowls regularly in hot, soapy water.

Providing attentive at-home care and limiting contact with other pets can help your cat recover comfortably while preventing the spread of infection.

Preventing URI

There are several steps cat owners can take to help prevent upper respiratory infections in their cats:

Vaccination is recommended to help protect against some of the most common viral causes of URI like herpesvirus, calicivirus, and feline viral rhinotracheitis. Kittens should receive a series of vaccinations starting around 6-8 weeks of age, with boosters every 3-4 weeks until 16 weeks old. Adult cats need URI vaccines periodically as boosters, usually every 1-3 years, according to guidelines from the American Association of Feline Practitioners (

Reducing exposure risk is also key for prevention. Keeping cats indoors and avoiding contact with strays or cats from unknown health backgrounds can reduce the chance of catching URI. Properly quarantining any new cats entering the home and checking their health status first is also recommended. Limiting interactions with higher risk cats at shelters, cat shows, or boarding facilities can also lower exposure risk.

Supporting the cat’s immune system can make them more resilient against infection. Feeding a high quality diet, avoiding stress, and keeping up with regular vet checkups helps keep cats in optimal health. Using probiotics or immune supportive supplements may also be beneficial. Discuss preventive options with your veterinarian.


The prognosis for most cases of URI in cats is good if properly diagnosed and treated. According to VCA Hospitals, most uncomplicated URIs can be treated at home with symptomatic care and typically resolve within 1-2 weeks.[1]

However, the duration of illness depends on the specific pathogen causing the infection. Feline herpesvirus and calicivirus tend to be more stubborn and can cause symptoms to persist for 3-4 weeks. Outside of these common viruses, cats can develop secondary bacterial infections that prolong recovery if not addressed quickly with antibiotics.[2]

If left untreated, URIs can lead to potentially serious complications like pneumonia, chronic nasal and eye discharge, and corneal ulcers. Extensive damage to eyes and sinuses may occur in severe cases. Proper treatment within the first week is important to prevent long-term effects.[2]

When to See the Vet

While most cases of URI in cats resolve on their own within 1-3 weeks, it’s important to monitor your cat’s symptoms and watch for any signs of a more serious illness. You should seek veterinary care immediately if your cat shows any of the following warning signs:

  • Difficulty breathing or making noises when breathing
  • Severe congestion that blocks the nostrils
  • Not eating or drinking for more than 24 hours
  • Lethargy, weakness, or inability to stand
  • Discharge from the nose or eyes that changes color (e.g. from clear to yellow or green)
  • Fever higher than 103°F
  • Swelling around the eyes
  • Excessive drooling or coughing

These symptoms can indicate secondary infections or more serious conditions like pneumonia, which require urgent veterinary attention. The sooner treatment begins, the better the prognosis. It’s especially important to monitor kittens or elderly cats closely, as they are more vulnerable to complications from URI. Don’t hesitate to call your vet if your cat’s condition seems to deteriorate or you have any concerns about their health. With prompt care, most cats make a full recovery from URI.



Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about upper respiratory infections (URIs) in cats:

How long does URI last in cats?

The duration of URI symptoms can vary. Mild cases may resolve within 7-10 days, while more severe infections can last 3 weeks or longer. With supportive care and treatment, most cats recover fully.

Is URI in cats contagious to other pets?

Yes, URI is very contagious between cats. It can also spread to dogs. Isolating sick cats and proper hygiene helps reduce transmission.

Can URI in cats be transmitted to humans?

No, cat URI is not contagious to humans. However, humans can transmit viral URI pathogens like feline herpesvirus to cats.

Does my cat need antibiotics for URI?

Antibiotics are only prescribed for bacterial infections secondary to URI viruses. Cats with purely viral URI typically do not require antibiotics.

Should I get other cats revaccinated after URI?

Vaccines help prevent URI but do not treat active infections. Unless a cat is overdue for core vaccines, revaccination is not needed right after URI recovery.

Can URI cause permanent damage in cats?

URI can sometimes cause chronic nasal, eye, or lung issues, but most cats fully recover with supportive care. Good nutrition and reducing stress help prevent complications.

Scroll to Top