Can cats catch a cold?
Technically no, they don’t catch colds as humans do. Human colds are caused by the rhinovirus and are host specific. Cats do catch upper respiratory infections though (also known as cat flu), which have similar symptoms to colds that we get.
- Nasal discharge
- Eye discharge
- Mouth ulcers
- Loss of appetite
The two main viruses which are responsible for 80% of upper respiratory infections in cats are “feline herpes” and “calicivirus”. Other pathogens include chlamydia, bordetella, and mycoplasma.
Unlike colds in humans, which are mostly self-limiting, cats can become very sick, very quickly. Kittens and senior cats are especially at risk. Healthy adult cats do get sick but tend to bounce back within a week or two.
Once your cat has been infected with the feline herpes virus, it remains in the body for life. The virus can reactivate and cause symptoms to return.
Both viral infections also have the potential to be shed by an asymptomatic cat. This means that the cat is infectious to other cats even though it has no symptoms of infection itself.
How are cat colds transmitted?
Direct contact such as nasal discharges. When the cat sneezes, airborne particles fly into the air and are inhaled by other cats. Eye discharge and saliva are also highly contagious.
Indirect contact (fomites). Viruses can remain contagious in the environment as long as it stays moist, which thankfully isn’t too long. Bedding, food and water bowls, toys, litter trays can all harbour infectious viruses.
Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for colds in cats and the veterinarian will focus on relieving symptoms and providing supportive care while the cat’s immune system fights the virus.
- Fluids to treat dehydration.
- Remove discharge from the nose and eyes. Nasal discharge, in particular, can affect your cat’s sense of smell, which is vital for the appetite. Helping to remove discharge goes a long way in maintaining the appetite.
- Antibiotic therapy for secondary bacterial infections.
- Saline nose drops may be used to help treat stuffy noses. Place one drop in each nostril once a day.
- Encourage the cat to eat, which can include offering food with a strong aroma such as tuna or baby food (make sure it contains no onion or garlic), or warming food in the microwave.
- L-Lysine is an essential amino acid that has been shown to suppress viral replication and inhibit cytopathogenicity. However, you should always speak to your veterinarian before you supplement your cat’s diet.
Can I catch a cold from my cat?
No, it is not possible to catch a cold from a cat, nor can humans pass on their colds to the family pet.
Vaccination is a safe and effective way to reduce the chances of your cat developing a cold/flu.
If you suspect your cat has a cold, seek veterinary attention immediately. As cat colds are highly infectious, you should isolate your cat from other cats to prevent passing it on.