What are cat colds?
Cat colds or flu can be caused by a number of viruses or bacteria, the most common are the feline herpesvirus, feline calicivirus, and chlamydia. Colds in cats tend to be more serious than human colds, and it is always recommended pet owners seek veterinary attention for a cat displaying the following clinical signs:
Senior cats and kittens are at increased risk and can quickly become extremely sick. While viruses can’t be treated with antibiotics, supportive care may be required while your cat is fighting off the infection.
Mild infections may be self-limiting, and your veterinarian may recommend home care.
Eye and nasal discharge
Gently wipe away eye and nasal discharge with a warm, damp cloth or gauze.
Saline nasal sprays may be used on your cat to help relieve congestion. Use on your cat twice a day.
Food and water
Encouraging your cat to eat is extremely important. Offer him tasty foods such as plain chicken or tuna. I also find the small gourmet cans such as Dine are especially appreciated by cats. Heating the food up can help to stimulate his appetite.
Add a small amount of food to your fingertip and placing the food on your cat’s tongue can help get him to eat, or you can add the food to a syringe, but be careful not to force the food down his mouth.
If you can’t encourage him to eat with the above methods, you may need to buy a high-calorie paste such as Nutrigel from your veterinarian. Hills a/d is another product you may try on your cat, this is a highly palatable canned food which is used to support cats who are recovering from illness or surgery. This food provides your cat with extra energy and nutrients which can help recover faster.
Dehydration is another common problem as your cat may refuse to drink if he is feeling unwell. Try to encourage the consumption of water. Giving him wet food (such as canned) will also help as it has a higher water content. Keep an eye out for signs of dehydration. To check this, pinch a small amount of your cat’s skin on the back of the neck and pull it up gently, then let it go. It should snap back immediately, if it goes down slowly, your cat is dehydrated and needs to see a veterinarian.
Increasing humidity can help your cat’s breathing. You can do this by either putting him in the bathroom with the shower running on warm/hot or adding humidifiers rooms.
When to see a veterinarian
Your cat should be taken to a veterinarian if any of the below occurs:
- You can not get your cat to eat.
- He is acting lethargic.
- He has vomiting and/or diarrhea.
- He has a fever.
- He is old (over 7 years) or young (under 1 year).
- If he is dehydrated (see here for two ways to determine if your cat is dehydrated)
- He has any other underlying medical problems.
- If the nasal or eye discharge changes from clear to coloured and thick, which means he has a bacterial infection.
Medications should not be given to your cat unless your veterinarian has prescribed them. In some cases, your veterinarian may recommend the use of decongestants such as Benadryl, Chlortrimeton or nasal sprays to help relieve congestion. This has to be carefully administered according to your cat’s weight, and must only be carried out on the recommendation of your vet.
Never use human medications on cats. In some cases, your veterinarian may prescribe a course of antibiotics to treat any secondary bacterial infections which may occur.
Prevention is always better than cure and most of the causes of cat flu can be easily prevented with vaccinations. I recently adopted two adult Tonkinese cats from a shelter. Cat flu is common in the shelter environment and when I brought them home they had the snuffles, but it didn’t progress any further. Their previous guardians had had them vaccinated which protected them. Some cats may display very mild symptoms even when vaccinated, but symptoms are self-limiting.