Cats can catch colds and flu in the same way people do. Cat colds have very similar symptoms to human colds, including runny noses, red, watery eyes, and an upper respiratory infection accompanied by a cough. What is different between the common cold as we know it and cat colds, or cat flu, is the cause.
This article looks at everything to do with cat flu. From the causes and symptoms to treatment and how to care for your sick kitty. And of course, we have our frequently asked questions section.
What Is Cat Flu?
Cat flu or upper respiratory infections (URI) has similar symptoms to a cold or influenza in humans. However, it is not caused by the same viruses and can’t be passed on from people to their pets. But it is highly contagious among cats, and the infection can spread very quickly.
URIs are most commonly transferred via saliva, discharges from the nose and eyes and direct contact with contaminated food and water bowls, bedding and toys.
What Are The Causes Of Cat Flu?
The most common causes of cat flu include:
- Feline Herpesvirus (FHV)
- Feline Calicivirus (FCV)
- Bordetella Bronchiseptica
- Chlamydophila Felis
Of these, the Herpesvirus (FHV) and Calicivirus (FCV) are the most common cat flu causing viruses, While Bordetella Bronchiseptica and Chlamydophila Felis are the common bacteria responsible for upper respiratory infections in cats and other animals.
Which Cats Are More At Risk Of Getting Cat Flu?
All cats, regardless of their age, can get an upper respiratory infection, but some are more at risk than others. These include:
- Elderly or senior cats
- Cats with underlying health conditions or a suppressed immune system
- Cats that haven’t been vaccinated
- Cats and kittens in large groups such as boarding kennels, rescue centres or feral colonies
What Are The Symptoms Of Cat Flu?
URI symptoms in cats are very similar to what people experience when they have a cold or the flu. The most common signs of an upper respiratory infection include:
- Runny nose
- A cough
- Mouth sores
- Discharge from the eyes
- Loss of appetite
While it isn’t a life-threatening disease for a healthy adult moggy, it can cause more serious conditions down the line if left untreated. For kittens, elderly cats and those with underlying health conditions, it can be far more severe.
When Is A Vet Visit Needed?
For the most part, like humans, cat flu goes away by itself after a week or two. However, if after a few days there is no improvement and your moggy isn’t eating, a visit to the vet is crucial. If it is left untreated, your cat’s cold could lead to pneumonia and long-term damage.
Kittens, senior cats and those with other health problems especially need veterinary care as a matter of urgency. Also, if your pet stops drinking water, is having difficulty breathing or has a persistent cough, you need to get your pet to the vet immediately.
After diagnosing your kitty, the vet may prescribe antiviral medicine, pain medication, eye drops and, if necessary, antibiotics. They will also advise on how best to care for your pet during its recovery period at home.
How To Care For Your Sick Cat
After diagnosing your cat and recommending the best treatment, your vet will advise you on how to care for your kitty at home.
Allowing your cat to rest and recoup in the comfort of its home will help with the recovery process. Ways you can care for your pet include:
Help your cat breathe
You can help your cat breathe more easily by placing it in a steamy room. The easiest way to do this is to keep your cat in the bathroom with you while you shower or bath. Otherwise, you can pour some steaming water into a bowl and place it on the table or floor (be careful around boiling hot water). Next, sit with your cat on your lap and cover your and your cat’s head with a towel. Doing this for five minutes at a time, three to four times a day, will help relieve the congestion.
Wipe your cat’s eyes and nose
Soak a cotton wool ball or pad in warm and gently wipe away the discharge from their eyes and nose. This will help them feel better, breathe easier and allow them to smell their food.
Encourage your cat to eat
If your cat isn’t eating, you can help encourage it by mixing their usual meals with stronger smelling foods. Pilchards, roast chicken (yum!), sardines, tuna, and anchovies will keep them hydrated and hopefully whet their appetite. Serve it warm.
Important – if your cat isn’t eating or drinking, speak to your vet!
Keep your cat calm
Stress can slow down the healing process, so you must keep your cat as calm as possible.
Give your cat time
We all know the feelings that come with a cold or flu – aching bones, sore joints, listlessness and lethargy. Just like we need time to recover from a cold, so too do cats. Allow your cat to rest in a comfortable and secure environment.
Frequently Asked Questions About Cat Flu
Our frequently asked questions section is your go-to read for any and all information about cat colds.
How do indoor cats catch colds?
Because it is so contagious, even indoor cats can catch cat flu. Whether it is coming into direct contact with an infected cat or being exposed to contaminated items, such as bedding, toys, litter boxes and food and water bowls, unvaccinated cats are susceptible to URIs.
Is there a cure for cat flu?
In the same way, there is no cure for the common cold; there is no cure for cat flu. However, getting your kitten vaccinated between 8 and 9 weeks of age and regularly vaccinating healthy, adult cats is the first line of defence against upper respiratory infections.
What is the recovery time for cat flu?
In mild cases, cat flu can last between five and 10 days. In more severe cases, however, it can take up to six weeks for a full recovery. In addition, in instances where kittens have picked up the Feline Herpesvirus, they may become carriers for life.
If my cat has cat flu, do I need to keep it away from other cats?
Absolutely yes! As already mentioned, cat flu is highly contagious and can be passed on via saliva and mucus. Healthy cats can also become infected if they are exposed to the virus on contaminated items. If you suspect your pet has a URI, it is best to keep it away from other cats for 7 to 10 days.
Remember, to date, there is no known cure for cat flu. Your best line of defence is to vaccinate your kitten as soon as possible and regularly vaccinate your adult cats. While there isn’t too much you can do to make your pet better, looking after it and allowing it to get as much rest as possible will help in the recovery process.