Can Cats get Colds? What is an Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats?

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upper respiratory infection in cats, cat nose snottyIs Kitty sneezing? It may be she has a cold. Yes, cats can get colds and it is more formally known as upper respiratory infections in cats. Indeed, cat flu is another, more severe, type of upper respiratory infection which sometimes develops complications such as pneumonia.

We can vaccinate against the severe viral causes of flu. But the common cold is best warded off by keeping the cat fit and healthy. But if they do contract a cold, should you worry?

Let’s find out more about upper respiratory infections in cats, what the signs are, and what treatment (if any) is needed.

Can Cats get Colds? What is Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats?

Just as people catch colds, so do cats; the difference is the infectious agent causing those colds.

In general, different bugs cause upper respiratory tract infections in people to cats. Its virtually unheard of for a cat to infect a person, or vice versa, with a respiratory infection. So if you suffer from a heavy cold, don’t worry, you won’t pass it onto your fur-friend.

What does a cold look like in a cat? Actually, little different to in people. This is a classic case of a snotty nose, sneezing, a fever, and generally feeling rough – whether its a person or a cat.

Is an Upper Respiratory Infection Contagious?

Upper respiratory tract infections in cats are usually highly infectious. The bugs that cause infection are able to survive in sneeze droplets and saliva.

This means when a cat sneezes, those infectious droplets settle in the environment. All it takes is for Cat B to stroll along after Cat A has sneezed on the floor, and Cat B could pick up the infection.

This has implications. Sometimes an infection can be transferred between cats on the owner’s clothing or by sharing food and water bowls with other cats. Bear this in mind, especially when petting cats you’re unfamiliar with. If they are unwell and sneeze, this could pose an infection risk for your cat.

The exception to this rule is rhinitis. The latter is an infection in the nasal cavity of the cat. It causes a runny nose, often on one side only. However, the cat lacks other signs of upper respiratory infections such as runny eyes. An important difference is that rhinitis is not usually catching, so other cats are not at risk.

If your cat is sneezing or has runny eyes, it’s best to assume they are an infection risk for others. In a multi-cat household, a cold or flu bug can sweep through all the cats. Which is why vaccination, even if yours are indoor cats, is such a good idea.

Most cases of upper respiratory infection in cats are species specific. This means they can infect other cats but are unlikely to be a risk to people or dogs.

Cat Herpes and More! 5 Things that Cause Cat Upper Respiratory Infection

What are the bugs most commonly linked to upper respiratory infections in cats?

  1. Herpes Virus: This dude is persistent and can lie dormant in the nerves, even after the cat appears to have recovered.
  2. Calici Virus: This virus causes nasty oral ulceration that makes it sore to eat
  3. Cat Flu: Surprise! The double whammy of herpes and calicivirus infection is what we commonly refer to as cat flu
  4. Chlamydia: This particular strain of Chlamydia causes upper respiratory infections in cats
  5. Bordetella: This cat-only strain of bug is closely related to the agent causing Kennel Cough in dogs and Whooping Cough in people.

From Cat Sneezing to Cat Coughing: Symptoms of Upper Respiratory Infection

Why is my cat sneezing? upper respiratory tract infection

It isn’t just colds that can cause respiratory symptoms in cats. Other problems such as asthma, heart disease, or even a lung tumor can cause breathing difficulties.

As a rule of thumb, if your cat is sick, a vet checkup is the best idea. There’s a big overlap in signs between the different conditions. Sure, a sneezing cat could mean they have a cold, but they could also have an allergy, inhaled dust, or have a foreign body up their nose.

The symptoms most linked to upper respiratory tract infections in cats include:

  • Sneezing: This may be clear fluid, or if the cat has a secondary infection, yellow-green.
  • Runny Nose: Take a careful look to see if the discharge is from one or both nostrils. A cold usually affects both sides of the nose. Just as in people, the discharge ranges from clear to thick yellow-green mucus.
  • Sore Eyes: The white of the eye may become red and inflamed. Also, there may be a sticky discharge from the eyes.
  • Poor Appetite: Cats depend a lot on their sense of smell to stimulate their appetite. A bunged up nose can cause their appetite to drop off dramatically.
  • Lack of Energy:  Yes, cats can feel achy and out of sorts with a cold, just as we do.
  • Oral Ulcers: Some of the viral causes of colds and flu in cats, cause mouth ulcers to form. Again, this makes it sore to eat so the cat may go off their food
  • Not Grooming: A combo of a blocked nose, sore mouth, and a fever mean the cat doesn’t feel like grooming
  • Fever: This depends on whether the upper respiratory infection is mild (a cold) or severe (flu)
  • Coughing: Now here’s a thing. Cats tend not to cough much, so if they do you should take notice. So coughing as a symptom of an upper respiratory infection is relatively unusual.

My Cat has a Cold, Should I be Worried?

The signs of an upper respiratory infection in a cat should give you some clues. But do you need to rush to the vet at the first sign of a sneeze?  Probably not.

Good antibiotic guardianship is crucial. This means the vet is unlikely to supply antibiotics if they suspect a mild bacterial or viral infection. In the first instance, an otherwise healthy cat should be able to fight off the infection. In the second instance, antibiotics don’t kill viruses, so there’s little point.

However, if your cat takes a turn for the worse, then a vet visit is essential.

Cat Cold Symptoms you should be worried about!

Here are some of the signs to watch out for which mean seeing the vet is advisable.

  •  Not Eating: Starvation has the potential to trigger a complication called hepatic lipidosis. This condition can be dangerous, so it’s best to reduce the risk by seeking veterinary attention as soon as the cat stops eating.
  • Fever:  Feverish cats feel distinctly unwell and tend to hide away and not eat or drink. Seek help early to prevent complications.
  • Open-Mouth Breathing: If your cat breathes with their mouth open, see a vet urgently.
  • Coughing: Again, this is unusual for cats and a significant sign which makes a vet trip advisable.
  • Difficulty Swallowing: A sore throat may make it difficult to eat or drink. Enough said.

Is your Cat Drooling? It May be time to take them to the Vet: Upper Respiratory Infection Treatment

Pneumonia in cats, cat sleeping in blanket

If the cat’s mouth or throat is very sore, it may be too painful to swallow.  These guys need help, such as:

  • Antibiotics: If the vet suspects a bacterial infection or a viral infection with complications
  • Anti-inflammatories: Non-steroidal medications such as meloxicam have a useful role in reducing fever
  • Decongestants: The mucolytic Bisolvin, helps break down mucus making it easier to breath
  • Antivirals: Very sick cats may occasionally be given antiviral medications
  • Intravenous Fluids: A very sick cat or one that already has health problems, may require intensive care such as intravenous fluids.

Nursing also plays an important role:

  • Bathing eyes to keep them clean
  • Wiping discharge from the nose
  • Keeping the cat warm
  • Syringe feeding
  • A comfortable bed with a litter tray nearby
  • Tempting the cat to eat with tasty or smelly foods
  • Brushing the cat so they feel better

Unlike Humans, Cats who get the Cat Flu need to go to the Vet!

With a cold we can muddle by for a few days, feeling sorry for ourselves. But as already mentioned, if a cat doesn’t eat they’re at risk of liver complications. If you suspect your cat has flu or is unwell for any reason, then do the cat a favor and visit the vet.

Common Questions on Upper Respiratory Infection in Cats

Are cat colds infectious to people or other pets?  

My cat has a mild snuffle: should I give her antibiotics?

What are the causes of this condition?

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