Cat colds, or cat flu, is quite similar to the common cold that humans get, however, it can be very severe and sometimes fatal, if not treated quickly. Studies estimate that about 80% of the cases are caused by FHV viruses (acute or chronic) or FCV. In some cases, the chlamydophila felis or bordetella bacteria can be the reason. Bordetella infection has a relatively high mortality rate in kittens, cats with weak immune systems, elder cats or those who have another disease.
Cat colds are extremely contagious and, therefore, are very common among stray animals and unvaccinated cats. The virus mainly attacks the respiratory system, so recognizing the symptoms and knowing how to act accordingly is essential to maintain the health and well-being of our feline friends.
Common symptoms of cat colds
- Sneezing and coughing
- Nasal discharge and congestion
- Eye infections glued purulent eyelids
- Excessive salivation (sore throat, ulcers on the tongue)
- Difficulty breathing
- Inflammation of the neck glands
Exposed kittens/cats may either develop the disease or be asymptomatic carriers (without showing signs of the disease). However, carrier animals can develop it at one time or another, as a result of stress or a weakened immune system. If the virus behind the cold were acute, carriers would only show mild symptoms that they can overcome quickly and do not require veterinary care.
How do cat colds spread?
- Airways: via secretions (sneezing, saliva, breathing) from an infected cat.
- Contaminated surfaces and objects: bowls of food and water or a blanket shared with a sick animal.
- Humans: If you pet an affected stray cat and come into contact with your kitty at home without washing your hands, there are high possibilities to pass it on.
Some signs to look out for at home
In the first stage, cats can occasionally sneeze and have a clear discharge from their nose. If you feel that your cat is still active, alert and the appetite hasn’t changed, then she will recover by herself and there is no need for treatment.
If your companion’s condition deteriorates, you may observe coughing in addition to sneezing, as well as the following signs: nasal congestion, purulent discharge from the nose and eyes, hypersalivation, ulcers in the mouth and depression. Fever and loss of appetite may also occur.
Tips to take care of your cat at home
- Make sure to clean the eyes and nose frequently with warm compresses to prevent nasal congestion and scab build-up in the eyes.
- Offer canned food, instead of dry ones and consider adding a little water to maintain good hydration levels.
- You can also heat the food a little to increase palatability. Cats need their sense of smell to stimulate them to eat, and soft food is more comfortable to swallow when they have a sore throat.
- Keep your cat resting and calm, her immune system is weak, and she needs rest to regain her strength and fight the virus.
- Avoid contact with other cats for at least two weeks after complete recovery; otherwise, the cat will contaminate her fellows.
When to consult the veterinarian?
Even if the virus was acute, any change in your cat’s appetite, activity level, and breathing is a sign you shouldn’t ignore. Consult your veterinarian as soon as possible so she can have supportive treatments that can go a long way to help her fight the disease better.
The vet may prescribe antibiotics in cases of infection or when the disease escalates. Anti-inflammatory drugs are also frequently used to manage pain, fever and inflammation.
Is it possible to prevent cat colds?
The primary vaccine protects your feline against some strains of viruses and bacteria involved in “cat flu”: herpes virus, rhinotracheitis, calicivirus and chlamydia. Vets usually give the first vaccines from 6 weeks. Then there are one to two boosters to be given after 14 to 16 weeks; this will help build immunity in the kittens. According to the vet’s protocol and the risks of exposure, he might give the vaccination once per 1-3 years.
Be aware that cat flu vaccines are not always 100% effective, and even vaccinated cats can carry the disease without showing symptoms. As a result, this puts them at risk of infecting other cats.
Natural remedies for cat colds
Anti-inflammatory drugs and other medications can cause many side effects in cats that can sometimes be serious and harmful. With this in mind, many cat owners are switching to alternative medicine and natural remedies to relieve the symptoms of their companion, and here are the most common ones:
- Provide a diet rich in antioxidants, vitamin E, C, taurine and lutein to fortify the immune system.
- Anti-flu inhalation: Bring 2 litres of water to a boil, add eucalyptus essential oil, niaouli, green myrtle and menthol alcohol and let your cat breathe in the mixture. In case your cat refuses, you can alternatively, put it in a diffuser where your cat likes to stay.
- CBD from hemp is an excellent natural anti-inflammatory; it promotes appetite, boosts energy and helps relieve the symptoms.