Can Cats Get The Flu? The Lowdown On Cat Flu

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Can Cats Get The Flu

After the sweltering heat comes the crispier air in the morning, longer nights, and shorter days. These signal the coming of the cold season, not to mention flu season.

While we try to prepare for it by filling our cupboards with healthy comfort foods and getting our flu shots, fur parents wonder: Can cats get the flu?

While the short answer to this question is Yes, there’s a big difference between cat flu and human flu. So that’s where we come in.

Your go-to site for all your “Can Cats” questions, Feline Living is here to give you the nitty-gritty details of cat flu.

Unlike other articles, we’re here to dive deep into the world of cat flu. Our topics include the whats, hows, and whys of this disease so that you don’t have to look for other articles online.

Can Cats Get The Flu? The Difference Between Human & Cat Flu

Is your cat sneezing? Yes, cats sneeze, and cat sneezing is normal. But, if your cat’s sneezing isn’t getting any better and your cat looks under the weather, your feline friend may have contracted the flu.

In the human realm, flu is a transmissible respiratory disease caused by the influenza virus. Cat flu, like human flu, is also a respiratory infection. It’s also contagious. The symptoms are somewhat similar.

However, when we say cat flu, it isn’t something caused by influenza viruses alone. Cat flu, on the other hand, is a general term for feline upper respiratory infections.

Can Cats Get The Flu

Influenza Virus: Must-Know Deets 

Before we answer all your cat flu-related questions, let’s backtrack a little and talk about the seasonal influenza virus.  

Influenza viruses may not be the usual culprit behind cat flu, but it remains a threat to animals (including our pet cats, kittens, and dogs). What’s more, your unknowing cat or dog can catch this highly contagious virus from people or humans.

Various articles have been published about animals getting infected by influenza viruses. Although viruses are often species-specific (ex. cats spreading the disease to each other or their fellow cats or dog-to-dog infection), articles from CDC confirm otherwise. Cases prove that the transmission of this illness from people to animals (your pet dog, cat, and bird included) can happen.

An article in Today mentioned cases of cats getting the H1N1 virus (a type of influenza A virus strain that is commonly known as swine flu) from their owners. NCBI also published an article citing a case in Italy back in 2009 wherein half of the caged cats were infected. 

Right now, there are still a lot of unknowns about the influenza virus and its effects on cats (and dogs). Thus, investigations are still ongoing.

But despite all the grey areas, this should serve as a warning. If you have the flu, it’s best to follow standard protocol to stop spreading the disease to your family (including your pet dog and cat).

Cat Flu And Its Causes

Now, back to our topics. We’ve previously mentioned that feline flu refers to the upper respiratory infection found in cats. It is caused by one or more pathogens, including fungus, bacteria, and viruses

According to VCA Hospitals, around 90% of flu infections in cats are caused by two viruses: feline herpes virus (FHV-1) and feline calicivirus (FCV). Eye ulcers are a common sign of herpes virus infection. Cats who contract this kind of virus become carriers for life. 

Mouth ulcers and frailty, on the one hand, are the usual symptoms seen in cats (including young kittens) exposed to the feline calicivirus. Unlike the hardy feline herpes virus, cats who recover become carriers for just one or two years.    

When it comes to bacteria-triggered upper respiratory infections, you can blame the chlamydophila felis and bordetella bronchiseptica bacteria.

Other agents that may set off an infection (although less common) include the mycoplasma parasitic bacteria and an intestinal virus called the feline reovirus.

Can Cats Get The Flu

How Cat Flu Is Transmitted

Unlike the seasonal flu virus that thrives in cold weather, cat flu is an illness that exists and goes around 365 days a year. It is also common in animal shelters, catteries, and places wherein cats are close to each other.

Cats can acquire this either thru direct contact (like snuggling, licking, or playing with other cats) or indirect contact thru infected surfaces (such as food bowls, cages, toys, and even human hands).

Carrier cats can spread the virus through droplets that they let out by sneezing or coughing. It can also be through any type of discharge or secretions from their mouth, nose, and eyes.

Which Cats Are Most Susceptible?

While cats of all ages and breeds can fall victim to this pervasive disease, it’s the young kittens and elderly cats who are most at risk. Unvaccinated cats and cats with a weak immune system are also vulnerable. 

Apart from risk factors like age, vaccination status, and your cat’s physical condition, its breed is also a reason of concern.

In fact, PetMD affirmed that flat-faced cat breeds like Persian and Munchkin cats are most prone to getting the infection due to their facial features. 

Cat Flu Symptoms: What You Need To Keep An Eye On

People who have to put up with the flu have to endure cold-like symptoms like runny nose, cough, sore throat, and loss of appetite.

A flu-ridden cat will also exhibit human cold-like symptoms but with just a few differences. Here’s a list of cat flu symptoms you need to watch out for:

  • Lack of energy
  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Drooling or gagging
  • Sore throat
  • Gruff voice
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nasal and eye discharge (clear or colored)
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Eye ulcers

If, by any chance, your pet is showing any of the above signs and symptoms of cat flu, contact your vet right away. Just like any type of illness, early detection is one way to increase the chances of your cat recovering from the upper respiratory infection. It also stops the rise of complications like eye damage and pneumonia, and other life-threatening diseases.

Can Cats Get The Flu? The Lowdown On Cat Flu 1

Diagnosing Cat Flu

For mild cases of upper respiratory infection, your vet can provide a provisional diagnosis. This simply means that your vet can give an educated assumption of the type of illness your pet cat has based on the signs and symptoms they’re manifesting. 

At times, your cat’s condition will call for a definitive diagnosis. This is especially needed if your cat’s flu symptoms are getting worst and if they’re not responding to treatment.

To give an accurate diagnosis, your vet will require lab tests such as blood tests, sample secretions from the nose, eyes, or the back of the throat, and x-rays.

Cat Flu Treatment

When it comes to treatment, one full-proof way to make anyone feel better is by giving them some TLC. Fact is, humans and animals (whether it’s a dog or a cat) need supportive care to live through any type of disease (including flu). 

If your cat shows signs of an uncomplicated type of flu, most likely, your vet will just ask you to treat your cat at home. Here is a list of things you can do to ease your cat’s suffering:

1. Keep Them Nourished

Since your cats need some energy to fight off the virus, giving them warm, easy-to-digest food is a must. Food products that smell good such as tuna and sardines or roasted chicken, are good options. If your cat doesn’t cooperate, you can opt to give them their favorite cat food products.

2. Make Sure They’re Hydrated

To maintain their electrolyte balance, you need to make sure that your cat gets the fluids they need. This will also help loosen the mucus buildup at the back of their throat and nose.

3. Expose Them To Some Warm, Humid Air

Similar to people, steam can also help unclog the congested nose of your pet cat. How to do this? You can bring your cat along with you in the bathroom the next time you take a hot shower.  

4. Give Medication

Antibiotics are a treatment particularly needed if bacteria triggered your cat’s flu. Since your cat’s immune system is vulnerable, antibiotics can also prevent the rise of other bacterial infections. Eye drops can also be given to relieve sore eyes. At times, pain medication is also prescribed to help your cat recuperate.

5. Clean Up Secretions

You can also soothe your cat’s discomfort by getting rid of the accumulated gunk in their eyes and nose gently using a soft cotton pad or washcloth dipped in salt water (a tsp of salt mixed in 16 oz of water). 

If the supportive treatment does not work and your cat refuses to drink or eat, then your cat may need to be hospitalized for nutritional support.

Can Cats Get The Flu? The Lowdown On Cat Flu 2

How To Prevent Your Cat From Getting The Flu?

Remember, the virus can be found everywhere. Some cats who have been infected can also be carriers for life, and direct contact is unnecessary to contract the disease.

As such, all the preventive measures to keep your cat safe should be practiced at all times. One thing we can do is make handwashing a habit. This helps ward off viruses, including the flu virus and COVID.

Keeping our environment disinfected and sanitized will also help keep those disease-causing pathogens at bay. Lastly, just like you, your pet cat and kittens and even your dog (since they’re all at risk) should also get their shots. 

Since no medication is available to cure flu, vaccination is your best bet. While various viral strains can wreak havoc on your cat’s system, the vaccine products available will (at the least) protect your cat from the most common causes of flu which include the feline herpesvirus. Make sure to get in touch with your vet to get more information about vaccination.

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