Can cats get colds?

For many of us, winter is the time of year we’re more likely to catch a cold and feel under the weather. You might be wondering ‘can my cat catch a cold?’, or even ‘can I catch a cold from my cat?’ Petplan vet Brian Faulkner has the answers.

Is it possible for cats to catch a cold? Or is any coughing or sneezing a sign of something else? There’s a lot of confusing information out there about cats and colds, so let’s find out the real reasons behind your cat’s cold-like symptoms. 

Can cats catch a cold?

Cats don’t catch the same common cold virus that humans do, nor can you catch a cold from your cat. Nevertheless, cats can get a condition called cat flu, which is also known as feline viral upper respiratory disease.

Cat flu causes cold-like symptoms in your cat, with a runny and congested nose, a fever, sneezing and red, watery eyes. It can also cause lethargy, so you may notice that your cat is not moving around as much as usual.

How do cats get cat flu?

Cat flu is transmitted from cat to cat but can’t be transmitted from cat to human. Any cat can be a carrier of the illness, which is caused by a combination of viruses, without necessarily showing symptoms. It is transmitted via droplets from a sneeze, saliva, or eye discharge. While unvaccinated kittens are usually most at risk of catching cat flu, older cats with weakened immune systems may also be susceptible. If you have a senior cat, or one with a pre-existing heart or lung disease, such as feline asthma, you’ll need to watch them carefully. If you’re concerned, speak to your vet about possible treatments. Cats who are up to date with their vaccinations won’t suffer the symptoms of cat flu, but they can still transmit the disease to other, unvaccinated cats.

What’s the treatment for cat flu?

There is no treatment that your vet can give you for cat flu and it will usually clear up on its own. Luckily, older cats with healthy immune systems have usually built up some resistance to it with age. If your cat caught the flu virus earlier in life, however, it can lie dormant and keep coming back. It is often triggered when their immune system is low due to stress, a poor diet or another illness.

Consult your vet as soon as your cat shows any of the signs and symptoms of cat flu. The first sign you may notice is sore-looking or partially closed eyes. Your vet might prescribe antibiotics to help them deal with any secondary bacterial infections as a result of the virus and it might take a few weeks before their body really gets on top of the symptoms.

Can cat flu be prevented?

The best way to protect your cat from cat flu is a yearly vaccination, which they can have from as young as eight weeks old. When they first start the course, they will need a second vaccination three to four weeks later. Then, to help keep your cat healthy, you’ll need to make sure they have annual boosters. You’ll need to budget for this yearly cost, as vaccines aren’t covered under most cat insurance policies. Unfortunately, the vaccine won’t be effective if your cat has already contracted the flu virus, so make sure they’re vaccinated as a kitten.

Should a cat with flu be kept away from other cats?

Cat flu is very contagious and unvaccinated cats are at risk of picking up the infection. It’s best to keep your pet inside and away from other cats if they seem unwell or have any of the flu-like symptoms mentioned above. If you have a new cat coming into your home, and you’re unsure whether they have received all their vaccinations, it’s important to quarantine them by keeping them isolated from other cats for 7 to 10 days.

What’s the best way to help a cat recover from cat flu?

To ease the symptoms of cat flu, soak a soft, clean cloth in saline solution and use it to gently wipe away discharge from the eyes and nose. Make sure your cat has comfy bedding, preferably cleaned daily to prevent reinfection. Offer them plenty of fresh water to drink, from a bowl that’s cleaned at least once a day with hot water. Your cat’s sense of smell will be dulled by the flu and their appetite may decrease as a result, so tempt them with tasty, healthy morsels such as warm chicken or fish. Once your cat has recovered, make sure their immune system stays strong and is well-equipped to fight off infections with a good-quality, age-appropriate diet.

Have you nursed a cat through cat flu? What are your tips for helping relieve their symptoms and helping them back to full health?

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