If you think your cat has a cold, more than likely your cat has an infection from one of the two viral agents responsible for the Feline Respiratory Disease complex. Especially if she hasn't been vaccinated against feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR) and feline calici virus (FVC) infection.
In fact the vast majority (80-90%) of upper respiratory infections in cats are caused by these two bugs, either alone or in combination. The word rhinotracheitis refers literally to inflammation of the nose; rhino, and throat area; trachea. Any time you see the suffix itis attached to a body part it means inflammation of that body part.
This upper respiratory disease complex can be mild and clear up in 5 to 6 days or it can be severe and recurring, lasting up to 6 weeks in some unfortunate cats. While mortality is typically low in normal adult cats, if can be higher in young kittens and senior citizens.
The clinical signs are obvious. FVR is characterized by fever that can go as high as 105 F initially then fluctuating between normal and 103 F. Sneezing is very common as is conjunctivitis (inflammation of the conjunctiva, the soft tissue around the eye)and inflammation and discharge from the nose. The discharge or drainage from both the eyes and nose starts out clear and in latter stages becomes cloudy. The medical language for that transition is serous (clear) to mucopurulent (pus mixed with mucous).
While most of us think the word pus is kind of gross, it's really more illustrative of how the body fights disease. The cloudy whitish cast to this substance is due in part to the presence of white blood cells and if you've read my posts before you know how important these cells are in fighting disease. White blood cells are one of the bodies first lines of defense. Think of them as the special forces that go into battle early and pave the way for the main army to come in latter and clean things up.
OK, I digress. I didn't want to write a PR piece for pus, but I like to be more educational when I do these posts. Who knows, you could win a trivia contest with this stuff or even better you can understand what's being said when your physician or veterinarian tries to impress with their Latin laced pathology dissertations.
Calici virus is better known for damage to the lining of the mouth, often causing painful ulcers of the tongue (ulcerative stomatitis) and gums. Calici virus can even cause pneumonia in some cases which complicates the whole process and makes this infection more serious. You can imagine that ulcers in the mouth make it hard to eat and that along with the undulating fever can cause many infected cats to lose lots of weight in the course of this disease.
Treatment is palliative in nature, designed to support the cat while they recover and prevent secondary infections by opportunistic bacteria. Think of what you would typically do for a bad cold and you get the picture. Broad spectrum antibiotics may be used in some cases.
Of course the whole mess can be prevented by the right series of kitten vaccinations and subsequent boosters for adults. That's really the point of this whole series of posts. Like mom said, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". As always, discuss the when and how often with your veterinarian.