Can I catch a cold from my cat?
No, the infectious agents responsible for cat flu are not infectious to humans. Therefore, the only way you can catch a cold or the flu from a cat is if the cat is infected with a flu strain which can infect multiple species. The only reported case of a cat infecting a person was when a New York veterinarian caught bird flu from a shelter cat infected with the H7N2 strain of influenza. This strain of bird flu does not normally infect cats or people.
There are over 200 viruses which can cause cold in humans, rhinovirus and coronavirus are the most common. They are responsible for a range of symptoms including sneezing, sore throat, runny nose, and fever.
Cat flu is caused by different pathogens to the viruses which cause colds in people. Herpesvirus and calicivirus are the main offenders. Symptoms are similar to colds in humans with runny noses, sneezing, fever and eye discharge. Kittens, seniors and immunocompromised cats are at greatest risk.
Viruses are essentially a piece of DNA or RNA surrounded by a protein coat. They replicate by entering specific cells in their host and using the host’s cellular machinery to replicate. In order to enter the cell, the virus attaches to it, and receptors on the viral coat attach to complementary receptors on the cell wall, gaining entry. If the virus doesn’t have the right receptors (key), then it will not be able to enter the cell.
For this reason, many viruses are animal and even cell-specific because they only have the key to that animal/cell. For example, the herpes virus is found in many species of animal, but it is generally host specific. We can’t catch feline herpes, cats can’t catch human herpes. This is the same with colds. The viruses responsible for cat colds cannot gain entry into our cells, and therefore we cannot become infected.
There are some viruses which are zoonotic, which means they can be transmitted from other animals to humans and vice-versa. Rabies is a life-threatening virus which is found in many mammals including cats and humans.
Human cold virus transmission
People get colds from other people. The virus is spread via airborne viral particles which are released when an infected person coughs and sneezes and/or via fomites, which are inanimate objects that are infected with the virus (telephones, door handles etc). Cats get colds in much the same way. This highlights the importance of handwashing and keeping your fingers out of your mouth.
So to summarise, if your cat has a cold, there is no need for you to worry, you can not become infected, and a cat can’t catch a human cold or flu. Proper hygiene must be practised around a sick kitty, though, to help reduce the chances of spreading the virus on to other cats.