Can Cats Get Colds? What Should You Do If Your Cat Has a Cold?

Can Cats Get Colds
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Approved By: Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM

Certified Content. This article has been fact checked and verified by our veterinary adviser.

Watery eyes, runny nose, and frequent sniffles are three common symptoms of the common cold in humans.

So, what if you notice your cat sneezing frequently paired with runny eyes and nose similar to what we, humans, experience when we are under the weather? Should we be bothered? Can cats get colds?

Can Cats Get Colds?

If you have flu, and your cat also started showing similar symptoms, you shouldn’t feel guilty. Yes, cats can catch cold, but not from us, humans. So, stop entertaining the notion that you infected your feline companion.

And thankfully, cat colds are self-limiting, or they resolve on their own without medical or nursing interventions.

But of course, as a pet parent, this should not be a reason to be complacent and be overconfident that things will get better even if your cat’s symptoms have obviously gone berserk.

How Do Cats Catch a Cold?

We might have said that we, humans, can’t be the reason for our cat’s cold symptoms, but that’s not completely true. While we can’t infect our cat with our flu, we can still be the carrier of the virus or bacteria.

This is possible if we came in contact with other cats that are sick, and then, went straight to our cat at home without taking a bath, or washing our hands.

So, to avoid this from happening, we should make it a habit to wash our hands, to disinfect our environment, and the things, and surfaces that we usually touch.

Upper respiratory infections (URIs) in cats, which are also called “common colds,” or “cat flu,” are also highly contagious, just like human colds. These infections are usually caused by a virus, bacteria, or fungus, though the last one is not that common.

The transmission of cat flu is not contagious for humans, but it can be easily spread between outdoor cats and cats living in enclosed spaces.

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Most cats catch colds when they come in contact with another sick cat. Hence, outdoor cats and felines living in shelters, catteries, boarding kennels, are more prone to being infected.

However, indoor cats are not fully protected from getting infected, either, since they can still be exposed to the virus or bacteria from cats who hang out just outside of your home.

Or like what was said earlier, you can also be the carrier if you pet an infected cat on your way home, and you immediately caressed your cat when you saw him without washing your hands, or better yet, without taking a bath first.

Moreover, just like us, humans, a cat’s immune system also plays an important role in how vulnerable or resistant he can be to these infections and how easily he can be re-infected.

Systemic illnesses such as asthma, allergies, kidney problems, or even stress can increase a cat’s chance of getting an upper respiratory infection.

Other things that can predispose a cat to catch cold are poor ventilation and air quality, especially for felines who are also suffering from asthma and allergies.

Some viruses can also stay dormant inside your cat’s body even if the symptoms have already resolved.

These viruses, just like the feline herpes virus, remain inactive or stay in their latent phase until your cat becomes stressed or another illness triggers them to recur. Viruses are the common culprits in most colds in cats, but bacterial infections can also be the reason.

Two of the common culprits are feline herpesvirus or feline viral rhinotracheitis and calicivirus. It’s also possible for your cat to get secondary bacterial infections on top of his viral infection.

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Common Symptoms of Cat Flu

Symptoms of the common cold in cats generally last for one to two weeks, and may include the following:

Mild Symptoms

  • Sneezing
  • Runny eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Sniffles
  • Mild fever

More Severe Symptoms

  • Coughing
  • Reduced appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Oral ulcers
  • Eye discharge
  • Dehydration
  • Enlarged lymph nodes

What Should You Do If Your Cat Has a Cold?

Treatment for upper respiratory infections depends on the severity of the symptoms. As mentioned earlier, most colds in cats will just resolve on their owner.

However, other more serious cases may include additional treatment including, subcutaneous fluids, antiviral medications, appetite stimulants, medicated drops for your cat’s eyes and/or nose, and steroids.

During some instances, your cat may need more serious interventions and even hospitalization may be required. 

Initially, a vet’s plan of action would be based on the symptoms exhibited by your cat, so you have to pay attention to his unusual behaviors during the past few days or so.

If your cat is showing the first signs of upper respiratory infections, but appears to be perfectly fine and is behaving as usual, you can give him supportive care to alleviate his symptoms and keep him comfortable.

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You can do this by implementing the following:

  • Promote your cat’s health by giving him a clean, warm, and comfortable environment that is conducive for rest and recuperation.
  • Wipe away your cat’s nose for nasal discharge using a clean damp cloth. You can also use artificial tears or saline solution to flush his eyes if needed.
  • You can soothe his irritated airways by using a humidifier in his room. If your cat is having slight difficulty in his breathing, you can place him inside his carrier, put a bowl of hot water in front of the cage, and cover the carrier and the bowl of water together with a blanket for 15 minutes.
  • Another alternative for congested cats is a steamy bathroom. This step is crucial not just in relieving his breathing, but also in helping him regain his appetite because a cat’s sense of taste is compromised when he is congested.

To do this, start by running a hot shower that is hot enough to fill the bathroom with steam. Keep your cat inside for 10-15 minutes to allow him to breathe the moisture-laden air. You can perform this once daily or depending on your veterinarian’s recommendations.

  • Always keep a water fountain or a bowl of fresh water nearby to keep your cat hydrated. And warm his canned food to increase its odor and to make it easier for him to swallow.
  • Do not give your cat cold medicine intended for human consumption or any medication without the advice of your family veterinarian.

How to Prevent Respiratory Infection in Cats?

As always, prevention is better than cure. While the common cold may seem to be a mild condition, it can still escalate when we least expect it.

Hence, to avoid reaching the worst-case scenarios, it’s best to practice the following preventive and safety measures:

  • Vaccinate your cat according to your veterinarian’s recommendations.
  • Keep your cat indoors. And if you bring him for a walk outdoors, it’s best to put him on a leash or an enclosed cat stroller. You can also build him an enclosed catio at home if you want to give him easy, yet safe access to fresh air from time to time.
  • Keep your cat’s room clean and with adequate ventilation.
  • Give your cat a balanced diet to strengthen his immune system and overall health.
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When to Seek Veterinary Care?

The vast majority of upper respiratory infections in cats are on the milder side of the spectrum. If your cat is just sneezing and his nasal passages aren’t blocked or he isn’t congested, you don’t have to seek veterinary care, yet.

Below are other symptoms that may warrant a vet visit the sooner the better:

  • Difficulty of breathing (this is an emergency)
  • Cough
  • Oral ulcers
  • Pus-like discharges from his nasal cavity and/or eyes
  • Not eating for more than a day
  • Depression or body weakness

If your cat exhibits any of these symptoms, you should consult your nearest vet right away, and don’t forget to follow his recommendations religiously.

How do you know when your cat has a cold?

Sneezing, congestion or sniffles, runny nose, runny eyes, poor appetite, lethargy and fever are common manifestations.

How does an indoor cat get a cold?

Usually, this happens because of some stress or illness. The cat's immune system is momentarily weakened or distracted, and the virus exploits the opportunity. Sometimes it's easy to identify the stress. Maybe the family moved into a new home or had a baby, or the cat has been coping with some other unrelated disease.

How can I treat my cats cold naturally?

Apple Cider Vinegar – ½ tablespoon daily mixed into food or tuna juice. Vitamin C – Can be given to a cat daily, 500mg, when healthy as a preventative measure, when sick the dose should be 1000mg twice daily.

Can I put Vicks on my cat?

No. Camphor is commonly found in topical pain or arthritis body rubs. Examples of some common trade names containing camphor include Carmex, Tiger Balm, Vicks VapoRub, Campho-Phenique, etc. Camphor is readily absorbed across the skin, and should never be applied to dogs or cats due to risks for poisoning.

  • July 14, 2021
Mary Nielsen
 

A huge animal lover, born and raised around dogs, cats, chickens... Self-educated pet care nerd. Currently parent of three adopted cats and one small mutt. Animal adoption advocate. Loves a good book (about animals) and playing the piano.