Can Cats Catch Colds?

When the cold and flu season approaches, I wondered if my cats are at risk for catching “colds” too. While the common cold seems like something that’s inevitable, for small animals, like cats, the effects of any illness could put them at significant risk.

That’s because domestic cats depend on their owners for care and wellbeing.

Since cats can’t always express to their owners when something is wrong, I did some research to find out if “feline colds” are possible and how I could identify if my cat comes down with one.

can cats catch colds

The research I found was pretty interesting, and if you’re a cat owner, you’ll definitely want to know what to look out for.

So, can cats catch colds? Yes, cats can catch “colds”, or what is an upper respiratory disease or infection (URI), from contact with infected felines and/or objects that are contaminated with relevant strains of bacteria. The underlying cause of a “cold” is typically associated with infections, requiring specific treatment and care. 

Veterinarian attention is recommended to rule out an additional disease like the Rhinovirus.

This strain has similar symptoms to URI’s  But once a cat has the Rhinovirus, it stays with them for life. There’s no cure.

So, if you love your furry feline as much as I love mine, then you’ll agree that being informed is super important when it comes to cats and “colds”.

While some symptoms seem to be the same, feline upper respiratory infections are quite different from human colds.

It turns out that cats with these symptoms are much more likely to be experiencing more serious health issues.

But there’s good news!

In addition to treatment, there are also preventative measures you can take to effectively deal with feline colds.

How Do Cats Get Upper Respiratory Infections?

80% to 90% of the contagious upper respiratory issues from (Feline calicivirus and feline herpesvirus)  are mostly found in:

  • Shelters
  • Catteries
  • Multi-cat households

These viruses can be transmitted from cat to cat through:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Grooming
  • Sharing food and water bowls

As much as I would love to protect my precious feline from everything harmful in this wild world, the truth of the matter is that illness will, most likely, happen at one point or another.

Just as humans are likely to catch a cold at some point, cats are, too.

So how does it happen?

In the world of felines, what we consider “the common cold” is actually an infection.

It can be classified as either a:

  • Viral infection
  • Bacterial infection

Both types appear with similar symptomatic reactions in cats.

So unless you’re a qualified veterinarian, it’s pretty difficult to distinguish between them based on symptoms.

There are two most common infections that can be considered the culprits for feline colds.

  • Feline herpes virus
  • Feline calicivirus

They make up for 95% of feline infections.

Research studies have shown that both of these viruses affect cats regardless of their breed or sex.

This means that male and female cats are at an equal risk of becoming infected, as are cats of any breed.

You might think that feral cats are more likely to get sick because of their unpredictable environment.

However, both feral and domestic felines are at risk of getting URI’s.

Even cats that spend all their time indoors in the safety of home can get sick.

One way that cats can become infected is by experiencing contact with a contaminated item.

Viral strains and live bacteria can remain on an object for several hours.

This means that if you bring home an object, like a scarf, bag, toy or box, that has the relevant strains of bacteria on it, your cat can become infected upon contact with the object.

Viruses can be passed between felines.

So if your cat comes into contact with another cat who is carrying the virus (even if they aren’t currently expressing cold symptoms!), it’s possible for your cat to become sick, too.

In some ways, the “common cold” for cats is comparable to that of humans.

It can be passed either by infected friends or contaminated objects.

Even some of the symptoms are similar, too.

What Are Cold Symptoms For Cats?

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Stuffy nose
  • A sore throat

Colds are the worst!

And while not all of the symptoms are exactly the same, some feline symptoms are similar to those of humans, meaning you’ll probably be able to sympathize with your cat!

The most common viral and bacterial infections that are classified as colds affect the nasal passage and sinuses.

Listen to this poor kitty below:

 

 

This means that discharge in the nose and eyes is very common.

Nasal discharge typically is:

  • Clear
  • Yellow
  • Light green.

If there is blood in the drainage, consult a veterinarian immediately, as this may be a sign of a more serious ailment.

Inevitably, drainage in the nasal passage can result in sneezing.

I have to admit that the first time I heard my cat sneeze, I thought I might melt from how adorable she sounded.

However cute it may be, though, sneezing is still a sign that your cat is suffering from an infection.

If you notice your cat moving slowly and hesitantly, this may also be a symptom.

Excessive sleeping is common with viral and bacterial infections because it’s a way for the body to conserve energy while fighting off the infection.

Some of the other symptoms of a feline infection require a bit more observation.

These include loss of appetite and dehydration from not eating or drinking enough.

You should be familiar with your cat’s eating and drinking routines, and if you suspect that she has a “cold”, pay attention to any changes that take place.

Finally, a fever can be a more serious sign of infection.

While not all felines that catch a cold will develop a fever, this presence of an elevated temperature may indicate that the cat’s defenses aren’t dealing with the infection adequately.

A prolonged fever may even be a sign that the infection has led to upper respiratory tract disease.

This may develop if an infection lingers and becomes worse.

If you suspect that your cat’s natural defenses are not adequate and the cold doesn’t show signs of improvement, you’ll definitely want to seek advice from a registered veterinarian.

long haired calico cat laying on the floor with an infection

While some symptoms of a feline cold seem to be more of an annoyance than a significant danger, none of these symptoms should be overlooked.

Cold symptoms are precariously similar to symptoms of other, more serious illnesses.

Always take precaution if you notice any of these symptoms in your cat, and check with your veterinarian to be sure you have identified the cause correctly.

What To Do if Your Cat Has A Cold

You’re probably wondering what you, as a devoted cat owner, can do about it.

I reacted the same way, and as I found out, there are actually a few things that can help keep these infections at bay.

Preventative Medicine:

This is key when it comes to anticipating health risks down the line.

There are vaccinations available, including the distemper shot, which can act as the first line of defense later in your cat’s life.

Veterinarians recommend booster shots at 9 and 12 weeks of age.

Unfortunately, vaccinations are not a foolproof way to keep your cat protected from certain viruses.

However, they can significantly reduce the severity of symptoms if your cat does become infected.

This, in turn, can help to stop an infection from worsening and becoming a more serious issue.

So even though they aren’t guaranteed ways to stop these infections, it’s better to think ahead and get the recommended vaccinations.

Feeding your cat nutritious food. This is a great way to prevent unexpected illnesses.

If you have multiple cats at home, there’s another precaution you can take.

Because cats can pass their illness on to other cats, it’s best to separate an infected cat from her brothers or sisters.

Caring for one sick patient is already hard enough, so it’s best to try and keep everyone as healthy and comfortable as possible.

Now let’s focus on what you can do at home to help your cat recover.

Keeping Your Cat Comfortable

We want to help your cat’s immune system concentrate on fighting these viruses and while helping them be as comfortable as possible.

Some things you can do are:

  • Run A Cool Mist Humidifier – Just like with us humans, this will help keep their breathing passages moist and help get rid of mucus build up.
  • Keep Your Cat Warm – Try and remove any cold drafts wafting around where they are resting or sleeping. This can stress your cat out causing their immune system work harder. Maybe get them a heated blanket to lay on.
  • Keep Their Nose/Mouth Clean – Wipe away secretions with a warm, moist paper towel and discard. This can clear out the drainage and help the cat be more comfortable.
  • Hydration – Make sure your cat has cool fresh water available, feed wet, raw or cooked food. We want to keep their fever and mucus build up down. You can offer chicken broth as well. Or you might have to feed water with a syringe if they are too ill.

Do you know how sometimes a cold can make you feel like staying in bed all day?

Well, sick cats can feel the same way, meaning they may not be as eager to get up and walk around. 

So to go into a bit of detail from above…

Always keep fresh water available and nearby.

This may mean moving the water dish closer to your cat’s choice of recovery area until she gets better.

Also, pay attention to your cat’s eating habits.

If she is losing interest in food, try offering soft, blended food that has been lightly heated until warm.

Sometimes a meat-based baby food can also entice your cat to eat.

As always, if your cat doesn’t show signs of improvement, be sure to have her seen by an expert.

A veterinarian will be able to confidently identify the illness and prescribe the appropriate medication, such as antibiotics and lysine, if necessary.

Can I Catch a Cold From My Cat?

When I told my friends about this story, they were eager to know if they could get sick from a cat.

Funny enough, I had already wondered the same thing and had looked into the matter to ease my own concerns.

So for all the hypochondriacs out there, here’s some good news.

Cats that are infected with a viral or bacterial infection cannot pass this illness to people.

The bacterial and viral strains are different from those that cause similar symptoms, like sneezing and a runny nose, in people.

This means that it is highly unlikely for an infected cat to be contagious to her human friends.

As mentioned before, however, cats can be contagious to other cats.

So it’s better to try and stop the infection from spreading any further if you suspect your cat is sick.

And remember, objects that come into contact with viruses and bacteria can remain there for several hours.

This means that if you come into contact with a sick cat, it’s best to wash your hands and disinfect items so the illness isn’t spread further.

Related Questions

How long do colds last in cats? A feline cold can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

The length of cold depends on the cat’s overall health, the specific strain of the virus causing the infection, and the correct application of treatment and remedies prescribed.

Do cat colds go away on their own? Most cat colds, including those caused by the feline herpes virus and calicivirus, don’t require special medication and will resolve on their own after a few days.

Colds that result in worsening symptoms that do not resolve after a few weeks may require medication as prescribed by a veterinarian.

Does a cat with upper respiratory tract infection need medicine? While most feline upper respiratory tract infections will resolve independently and without medication, those cases that do not show signs of improvement may require antibiotics or other medication.

Elderly cats and cats with existing medical conditions prior to infection may be at a higher risk of requiring medication to resolve an upper respiratory infection.

Sources:

https://www.petmd.com/cat/emergency/common-emergencies/e_ct_excessive_sneezing_nasal_discharge
https://www.allfelinehospital.com/cat-colds.pml
https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Reference/Pages/Antimicrobial-Use-and-Antimicrobial-Resistance.aspx
https://www.journalofhospitalinfection.com/article/S0195-6701(99)90037-3/abstract
https://europepmc.org/abstract/med/1850183
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1098612X09001156
https://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/home-remedies-cat-colds
https://www.k-state.edu/media/newsreleases/feb09/catscold21009.html

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