Sneezing and eye discharge in kittens almost always indicate the kitten has contracted an upper respiratory tract infection. In most instances, upper respiratory infection in cats is similar to a cold in humans. However, in kittens, the infection can be deadly if not treated properly or allowed to progress too far. This is because a kitten's infection is more likely to advance to pneumonia.
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There are various viruses and bacteria that cause upper respiratory infection in kittens. The two main types are feline herpesvirus-1 and feline calicivirus. Upper respiratory infections are quite contagious and spread from the eyes, nose and mouth. If you have a litter of kittens, it is likely that if one of the kittens develops sneezing and eye discharge, it won't be long before the illness spreads to litter mates.
If your kitten is exposed to an upper respiratory infection, it will begin showing symptoms of illness two to five days later. The earliest symptoms include eye discharge and sneezing. Along with sneezing and eye discharge, other common symptoms include nasal discharge, lack of appetite, fever and some drooling. If the kitten breathes with its mouth opened, get to a veterinarian immediately.
Your veterinarian will likely diagnose your kitten with an upper respiratory infection based upon the kitten's eye discharge and sneezing. The veterinarian will likely not try to determine what virus or bacteria is causing the infection. Most of the time the cause is viral and treatment involves making the kitten comfortable and as healthy as possible while her body fights the infection.
Antibiotics may be prescribed if the veterinarian suspects a bacterial infection or a secondary infection, and fluids may be necessary. Home care will include encouraging the kitten to eat and drink, and administering medications prescribed by the veterinarian. The kitten's eyes and nose need to be cleaned with a warm moist cloth a couple of times each day to clear away mucus and eye discharge.
Vaccinations provide kittens with protection against many of the agents that cause an upper respiratory infection. In order to prevent these infections in your kitten, follow the vaccination protocol recommended by your veterinarian, and keep your kitten away from other cats until the kitten has completed the vaccination schedule. The general recommendation is that kittens be vaccinated between six and eight weeks of age, again four weeks later, and a third time four weeks later. The kitten will then receive a booster vaccine a year later.
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