What to Do When a Cat Has a Cold or Flu

What to Do When a Cat Has a Cold or Flu

Pets are part of our family and we hold them close to our hearts. They have unconditional love for us and they are amazing companions as well. For the love of pets, people ask, can a cat catch a cold or flu? The short answer is yes – cats do get common colds and the flu. Most cat colds are spread cat to cat but there are strains of human cold that your cat can catch. The question we want to answer today is what to do when a cat has a cold. Before we get there, we will take a look at what causes a cold in cats as well as how to know if your cat has a cold?

What can cause a cold in cats?

The most common causes of a cold or upper respiratory infections in cats are viruses. Bacteria closely follows and a cat can be infected by either or both. The viruses and bacteria include:

  • Feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR) also known as feline herpesvirus type 1
  • Chlamydophila felis (C. felis)
  • Feline calicivirus
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica

Other contributing but not common causes of colds in cats include mycoplasma spp or feline retrovirus.

Viruses and bacteria are highly contagious and are present in discharge produced by the nose and eyes and in saliva. If a healthy cat comes into contact with a sick cat, they get infected. The most vulnerable are cats with retroviruses who get infected through direct or indirect contact with contaminated objects.

Unfortunately, some of the above-mentioned viruses and bacteria are present in recovered cats making them carriers. These unknowingly pass on the diseases to other cats. The most common in such cases are mothers who are carriers and infect their litter unknowingly.

Cats that contract FVR are considered to be chronic carriers which means they carry the virus for life. They can become sick again especially in times of high stress such as new housemates, moves, etc. approximately half of the cats infected with FVC remain to be carriers for a few months even after the symptoms cease and in very rare cases, they remain as carriers for life.

These bacteria and viruses can be spread from one cat to the other through coughing, sneezing, or while grooming. Sharing of food and water bowls also add on to the transmission.

Symptoms of a cold in cats

A cat cold is not any different from a human cold. It affects the upper respiratory system of the cat where all the symptoms begin. In cats, the symptoms of a cold differ depending on the cause, location of the infection, cat’s immunity, and length of infection among others. However, some of the common signs of a cold in cats include:

  • Runny nose

The virus or bacteria causing the cold starts with causing irritation to the nasal lining. The body, therefore, produces mucus that helps protect the nasal passages. The mucus is produced in excess and it leaks through the nostrils or it is expelled through frequent sneezing.

  • Sneezing

Sneezing is an involuntary reflex that helps expel foreign bodies and invaders present in the nasal system. It’s the body’s way of telling you something alien is present in the nasal system. It is the most common and most persistent cause of a cold in cats.

  • Cough

It’s present depending on the cause of the cold in a cat and most prominent when the cold is in another stage of infection. Here, the infection has already spread into the lungs which cause mucus production in the lungs.

  • Congestion

When a cat has a cold, the nasal passages swell and blocked by mucus. The cat then finds it hard to breathe through the nose and it resorts to breathing through the mouth in a bid to take in sufficient amounts of air.

  • Persistent nasal discharge

This is due to the excess mucus produced to stop irritation to the nasal lining. It is produced in excess and it ends up blocking the nasal passage.

  • Fever

This might be difficult to detect in cats but mostly, a fever is when the average normal cat temperature rises to more than 102 degrees Fahrenheit.

If the cat is eating at all, there is a reduced appetite. Some cats don’t eat as much when they have a cold. This is caused by the loss of sense of smell due to the blocked nasal passage. This leads to weakening in the immune system and the entire body as well due to the lack of energy.

Other symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Oral or nasal ulcers
  • Rubbing of eyes
  • Squinting
  • Drooling
  • Gagging


If your cat exhibits any of these symptoms, there are high chances the cat has a cold.

Diagnosis and Treatments of a cold in cats

Seeking veterinary care is top on the list when your cat has a cold. infections last from 7-21 das and a minor infection clears up on its own. However, if the cat’s cold doesn’t clear up in 5-7 days, it’s time to see a vet. This also applies to when a cat is extremely lethargic, having difficulties breathing and not eating. These usually weaken the cat’s body and immune system as well.

When you take the cat to a veterinarian, the first thing they do is a diagnosis. Some diseases cause cold-like symptoms in cats. The veterinarian studies the cat’s symptoms and risk factors then test for other conditions. Talk to your vet in case you are concerned about the tests to be carried out to diagnose and treat the cat. Some of the tests include:

  • A complete blood count to determine if the cat has blood-related conditions.
  • Chemistry tests to evaluate the functions of internal organs such as the liver and kidneys.
  • Urine tests to rule out urinary tract infections or kidney problems.
  • Electrolyte tests to check for imbalance and dehydration.
  • Feline immunodeficiency virus or feline leukemia tests if the case is more serious.

The doctor provides you with medication after diagnosis depending on the cause of your cat’s symptoms. While there are no effective antiviral drugs commonly used for cats today, the doctor can prescribe an antibiotic.

Taking care of a cat with a cold or flu

While medication will work, it’s important to take care of the cat better at home. Most people make the mistake of giving the cat medication and forget to take care of the cat. The cold will eventually pass but it will be much better when the cat is more comfortable.

You must also make sure the cat goes through the entire round of the prescribed medication. Ensure you administer the medication exactly as instructed by the vet. If you have any questions about the medication, ask before leaving the vet’s office.

When you get home, it’s time to make sure your pet friend is comfortable. Start by keeping the cat warm and comfortable. If the cat has a high fever, avoid too many blankets but get one to make her more comfortable. Avoid drafts at all costs. They can be so cold sometimes adding stress to the cat’s body which keeps the immune system from function as it should to fight the cold.

Add on the comfort by running a vaporizer to add more humidity to the cat’s environment. This helps keep her nasal and breathing packages moist which in turn aids in expelling mucus buildup.

When the mucus is expelled, remove or wipe the secretions away using a warm and moist paper towel then discard it. make sure to keep the cat hydrated at all times even though he might feel less like drinking or eating. Keep up her fluid intake to avoid dehydration which can drive up a fever and causes thick muscle secretions.

How to prevent colds in cats

There is no sure way to prevent a cat from getting a cold. The best you can do is help boost the cat’s immune system to enable the cat to fight off the virus once he is exposed.

Provide your cat with good nutrition to keep the immune system in the best condition. Start with feeding the cat high-quality food you can afford and make sure you feed the cat a balanced diet. Keep fillers at a bare minimum in pet food and feed the cat more real protein foods.

  • Clean living area

Make sure your cat’s living area is clean and wash the food and water bowls daily. Mop your floors regularly and use a mild bleach solution to kill bacteria and viruses on hard surfaces.

  • Vaccination

Make sure your cat is properly vaccinated and take the cat for regular checkups as well.

It is also important that you keep your cat safe by avoiding exposure to the outside of the household. The cat might interact with other cats who are chronic carriers and get infected in the process.

When treating a cat’s cold, it’s important to understand that once the cold virus is in your cat’s system, it remains there which increases the chances of the cold recurring in the future.

If your cat catches a cold, no worries as it will soon pass. Do your best to keep the cat as comfortable as possible and take her to the vet for a checkup.

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