Winter usually brings on a case of the sniffles for most of us – but can your cat be affected in the same way? Petplan vet Brian Faulkner has the answers.
Q: Is it possible for cats to catch a cold?
A: Although there’s a lot of confusing information on the internet, cats can’t actually catch the same common cold virus we do – but they can get cat flu (sometimes also called feline viral upper respiratory disease). Cat flu does cause cold-like symptoms, with a runny, congested nose that can make your cat snuffle and sneeze, a fever, drooling, and red, watery eyes. Your cat might also avoid moving around as much if she has cat flu, as it can cause muscle and joint pain.
Q: How do cats get cat flu?
A: A cat can be a carrier of cat flu (which is caused by a combination of viruses) without necessarily showing symptoms. It’s transmitted through sneeze or saliva droplets, or eye discharge. While kittens are usually most at risk of catching cat flu, older cats with weakened immune systems may also be susceptible. If your cat is a golden oldie or has a pre-existing heart or lung disease (such as feline asthma), you’ll need to watch her carefully and you might need to speak to your vet about possible treatments.
Q: What treatment is there for cat flu?
A: There is no cure for cat flu, but the good news is that healthy older cats – those that have no immune issues – have usually built up some resistance to it with age. However, if your cat caught the flu virus earlier in life, it can lie dormant and keep coming back, and is often triggered when her immune system is low from stress, poor diet or another illness. Consult your vet as soon as your cat shows any of the symptoms (one of the first signs to look out for is sore-looking or partially closed eyes). Antibiotics might be prescribed to help her deal with any secondary bacterial infections as a result of the virus, and it might take a few weeks before her body really gets on top of the symptoms.
Q: Can cat flu be prevented?
A: Yes, there’s a simple way to protect your pet from cat flu: a yearly vaccination, which cats can have from nine weeks old. To help prevent your cat from ever catching the condition, though, you’ll need to make sure she receives her immunisations every year. (Just keep in mind that you’ll need to budget for this yearly cost, as vaccines aren’t covered under Petplan policies.) Unfortunately, the vaccine won’t be effective if your cat has already contracted the flu virus.
Q: Should a cat with flu be kept away from other felines?
A: Cat flu is very contagious and unvaccinated cats are at risk of picking up the infection, so it’s best to keep your pet inside and away from other cats if she seems unwell and has any of the flu-like symptoms mentioned above. If you have a new cat coming into your home, and you’re unsure whether she’s received all her vaccinations, it’s important to quarantine her by keeping her isolated from other cats for seven to 10 days.
Q: What’s the best way to help a cat recover from cat flu?
A: You can help to ease her symptoms by using a clean cloth soaked in saline solution to clear away the discharge from her eyes and nose. Make sure she has comfy bedding (cleaned daily to prevent reinfection) and plenty of fresh water to drink from a bowl that’s cleaned with hot water at least once a day. As your cat’s sense of smell will be dulled by the flu, and her appetite may decrease as a result, you can tempt her to eat with tasty, healthy morsels such as warm chicken or fish. Once she’s recovered, make sure her immune system stays strong and equipped to fight off infections with a good-quality age-appropriate diet.