A full history of the management practices and the prevalence of upper respiratory tract disease (URTD) at 218 rescue shelters, breeding establishments and private households with five or more cats was recorded. Oropharyngeal and conjunctival swabs and blood samples were taken from 1748 cats. The prevalences of feline herpesvirus (FHV), feline calicivirus (FCV), Chlamydophila felis and Bordetella bronchiseptica were determined by PCR on swab samples. An ELISA was applied to determine the prevalence of antibodies to B bronchiseptica. The rates of detection by PCR of each pathogen in the cats in catteries with and without ongoing URTD were, respectively, FHV 16 per cent and 8 per cent; FCV 47 per cent and 29 per cent; C felis 10 per cent and 3 per cent; and B bronchiseptica 5 per cent and 1·3 per cent; the seroprevalences of B bronchiseptica were 61 per cent and 41 per cent, respectively. There was evidence that FHV, FCV and B bronchiseptica played a role in URTD. The risk factors associated with the disease were less than excellent hygiene, contact with dogs with URTD, and larger numbers of cats in the cattery or household.