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As a volunteer with a local shelter, we see a lot of upper respiratory infections (URI) in our cats.  We have an offsite adoption center for the cats from our shelter, and if they contract URI, we then have to find foster homes for them to recover, which of course then puts our own animals at risk.  We have heard that grapefruit seed extract can help with URI's.  If so, what dose should be given and how frequently?  Also, is there any other type of treatment we can provide to our cats to help prevent URI's.


Dr Rose DiLeva’s response:

Upper respiratory infections in cats have plagued us for decades. It is, off course, important to determine if the problem is bacterial, viral or fungal, as each would be approached in a different manner. Generally speaking, I would make sure that the environment that exists in your foster homes is free from contamination as much as possible. Cleaning the cages or enclosures the cat(s) are in with a chlorhexidine solution regularly is imperative. Make sure their stay is pleasant. Lots of fresh air and sunlight, plenty of brushing, petting, and love. Perhaps a cozy bed to lie on while recovering.


Remember, we want to treat the mind, body and spirit. I always play soft, calming music in my treatment rooms while a pet is getting acupuncture. It makes the experience that much more pleasant and comfortable (the owners enjoy it as well )! Perhaps playing classical music or something with ocean or dolphin sounds can be arranged. These cats need attention and love as much as any other sick pet and should not be in a cold, dark, isolated place just because they sneeze. Be practical about it. I would rather see these cases in foster homes specifically set up for respiratory problems then to see them left with little to no interaction with their caretakers. And remember, always wash you hands after handling a sick cat.

Obviously, we are trying enhance the immune system in these cases. We must strengthen the body's defense mechanisms. We must tonify the "wei qi,"  as Chinese medicine refers to it. The use of antioxidants and Probiotics is important. There is a Probiotic called Culturell that can be found on line at www.culturell.com that is good for the immune system. I think some pharmacy stores may have it. Vitamin C can be given. The powdered form seems to work better.

There are Chinese herbs whose combination can enhance the immune system, target the lungs and have antiviral activity. I have treated cases that have combined acupuncture, Chinese herbs and a pulmonary homeopathic remedy with success. The Chinese herb, Huang qi tonifies the immune system, the lungs, blood and Qi (the Chinese term used to describe the energy that runs through the body). 

Lysine has antiviral activity against the herpes virus. The dose in kittens is 125 mg twice a day, for adult cats 250 - 500 mg twice a day.  There is also a Feline Upper Respiratory nosode that is available.

Dr Randy Kidd’s response:

About 10,000 different bugs that cause URI in cats (not really, but it seems like that).  Good thing is that most of them are pretty innocuous; only a few cause any real problem.  Two bad things:  1)  they are usually highly contagious.  2) the “bug” is often a virus which conventional antibiotics will not touch. 


Grapeseed is one I’ve heard used, but I haven’t used it myself. 

I’ve had reasonable luck treating individual cases with herbal remedies – To suppress coughing licorice root, Glycyrrhiza glabra, mullein, Verbascum thapsus , thyme, Thymus vulgaris, osha root, Ligusticum porteri, and coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara.  If necessary to re-establish normal air flow ginkgo, Ginkgo biloba may be helpful.  Always add an immune system balancer such as Echinacea.  I’d make a tea from the fresh or dried product, and either add some to the diet, or to the water of those who are drinking and who continue to drink the tea water.  When you give the herbs – any of them mentioned above or grapeseed -- in this way, there is not much worry about dosage – basically let the cats decide how much they need.  May be hard to achieve a “therapeutic level” although I’m convinced very small amounts are often effective; but the risk of toxicity is minimal.  (Where we get into trouble is when we use concentrated herbs – tinctures or capsules made from tinctures.     


My problem is that I’ve never dealt with an in and out, multiple cat, shelter environment like you have.  It would be nice to come up with a prevention program, either some way to routinely dose the incoming (and permanent residents) with some of the above herbs, but especially Echinacea … or a delivery system such as an aromatherapy aerosol.  Herbs to consider for the aerosol would be thyme, chamomile, lavender, and mullein.  Simply plug the aerosol and let it waft throughout the shelter.  Since I’ve never tried it, dunno if it’ll work, but might be worth a try.     


Would also be interesting to see if anyone else on the list has had any luck with prevention in shelters.        


Hope this helps, and if you come up with any other answers, I’d like to know.