Can Cats Get Colds?

If your cat is suddenly sniffling and sneezing, you may wonder, “has my cat caught a cold?” Our feline friends can fall victim to contagious viruses and bacteria just like you and I, causing them to experience a variety of respiratory symptoms. So what are cat colds, and how do you know if your cat has one?

In this article we will discuss the details of colds in cats, and help you better understand how to help your cat through their cold going forward.

Do Cats Catch Colds?

Can Cats Get Colds

Yes, cats can catch colds just like you and I. There are multiple viruses and bacteria that cause sneezing and runny noses in cats, mimicking symptoms of the common cold in humans.

These colds are often extremely contagious, and are most common in multi-cat households or shelter situations. While cats may not be able to pass these colds to their humans, they can easily pass them on to other feline friends.

Some of the most common viruses and bacteria that are responsible for colds in cats include:

  • Feline herpesvirus
  • Feline calicivirus
  • Bordetella bronchiseptica
  • Chlamydophila felis
  • Mycoplasma

Both Feline herpesvirus and calicivirus can be prevented with annual vaccines, making it essential to keep up with preventative care, especially in multi-cat households.

While FIV and FeLV may not cause a cold themselves, they can lead to a weakened immune system that makes a cat an easier target for cat colds. FIV and FeLV can be prevented with annual vaccines as well.

How Do Cats Catch Colds?

If your cat begins to display symptoms of a cold, you may be wondering how they even caught the cold in the first place.

Colds are a result of some type of infectious illness, and there are many ways they can sneak into your cat’s life.

To help you better understand how your cat caught a cold, let’s list the ways in which cats are exposed to respiratory illnesses.

Exposure as a kitten

Sometimes exposure to infectious respiratory illness as a kitten can carry cold symptoms into adulthood. For example, Feline herpesvirus is a condition that often causes lifelong flare ups, meaning a cat can have respiratory symptoms on and off throughout their life.

If your cat was exposed to an infectious illness before you welcomed them into your life, you may not even know that they ever had the condition.

Living in a shelter/rescue

Contagious respiratory conditions are extremely common in areas that house a large amount of cats or kittens. Environments like shelters or rescues see a high rotation of incoming animals, some of which may be bringing in infectious respiratory illnesses. If your cat is coming from a shelter or rescue, they may have been exposed to one of these conditions.

Exposure as an outdoor cat

Outdoor cats that are not fully vaccinated can be exposed to many forms of infectious disease. This is often a result of coming in contact with infected cats, fighting with other outdoor cats, or exposure to contaminated fluids or wastes.

Exposure to contaminated objects

While this is the most rare form of transmission, cats can acquire respiratory illness when coming in contact with contaminated surfaces. For example, if you spend time with a cat that has a contagious respiratory disease, and you immediately come home and cuddle your own cat, this is potentially putting your cat at risk.

What Are Cat Cold Symptoms?

So how do you know if your cat has a cold? While most respiratory illnesses will range in severity, you can generally expect a few common symptoms.

Some of the most common cold symptoms in cats include:

  • Sneezing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Congestion
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Eye discharge
  • Anorexia
  • Lethargy
  • Fever

If you notice any of the above symptoms in your feline friend, it’s time to visit the vet and get to the bottom of their illness. While most cat colds will resolve quickly and without complications, it’s always best to have the guidance of your veterinarian.

How To Treat A Cat With A Cold

The method in which you will treat your cat’s cold will vary based on the illness in question. While there is not always a way to determine the exact virus or bacteria behind your cat’s sniffles, your vet can often come to a conclusion based on your cat’s history.

To help you better understand what to expect when treating your sneezing cat, let’s list the most common treatment methods for cat colds.

  • If your cat is experiencing respiratory symptoms that are disrupting their life, your vet may prescribe antibiotics to help treat the infection. This is especially true if your cat has a fever, is anorexic, or is experiencing lethargy. 
  • If your cat has a severe upper respiratory infection that they fear has led to pneumonia, your vet will not only recommend a series of antibiotics, but may also suggest hospitalization.
  • If your vet fears a viral respiratory condition, they may also suggest an immune supporting supplement like L-lysine. This helps to minimize their current flare up, and potentially prevent future flare ups to come when used regularly.
  • Your vet may suggest the use of a nebulizer if your cat is struggling with a severe cold, as this helps to break up the mucus in their chest and nasal cavities. 
  • Moisture in the air can help relieve a cat’s respiratory symptoms, making a humidifier a wonderful addition to your home if your cat has a cold. It’s most effective when used in a small area, so confining your cat to a room with a humidifier can be helpful in their recovery. 
  • If your vet fears an allergy in your feline friend, they may prescribe an antihistamine to help relieve their allergic reaction and minimize their daily symptoms. 
  • Keeping your cat interested in eating and drinking is an important part of a cat cold recovery. Because some cats lose their smell when experiencing a cold, you may need to make their meals extra appetizing. This can mean offering them wet food, heating up their wet food to make it more pungent, or even adding warm water or broth to their standard diet.

The exact treatment of your cat’s cold will vary based on the cause and how severe their illness is. Your vet will likely take a thorough history, perform a physical exam, and may even suggest x-rays if their symptoms are severe.

How Long Do Cat Colds Last?

Most cat colds will only last 1-2 weeks when treated quickly and appropriately. Cats can experience residual flare ups if their initial cold was viral, but these flare ups should be short lived as well.

If your cat’s cold symptoms last more than 2 weeks, or are worsening over time, it’s best to speak with your vet about the best treatment plan going forward.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, our cats can experience colds and other respiratory conditions just like we can. Knowing what to do about a cat cold can help your feline friend get over their cold faster.

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