Has your cat been sneezing or coughing? If your furry feline has been a little under the weather lately, you may be wondering can cats get colds. The short answer is yes, cats can indeed get colds. However, it’s not the same kind of cold humans suffer from. Even though symptoms may be similar, when a cat catches a cold it’s usually called a feline upper respiratory infection.
These infections are seen most often in kittens and cats that live in close quarters with a lot of other felines, such as in a shelter, pet store, pet daycare, or breeding facility. A healthy cat can contract an illness if they have been in contact with a sick feline, especially if they have been exposed to the illness during the incubation period.
Unfortunately, when a cat gets sick with a cold, it may not be a simple fix. Humans can just pick up some over-the-counter cold medicine and begin to feel better quickly. Unfortunately, it’s a bit more difficult for our feline friends. Thankfully, most of the time, cats with an upper respiratory infection will kick it out on their own, without vet intervention or medication. Sometimes however, a cat’s cold can be nasty and progress into something more severe. That means skipping the vet visit may not be such a wise idea.
What is Feline Upper Respiratory Infection?
It’s similar to the cold humans get from the cold virus, but this infection could be caused by a virus, bacteria, or even both. The bacteria and viruses found most often in feline upper respiratory infections are: feline herpesvirus type 1 (or feline viral rhinotracheitis, chlamydophilia feels, feline calcivirus, bordetella bronchiseptica, and less often, the bacteria mycoplasma spp or feline retrovirus. It’s thought that 90% of all upper respiratory infections in cats stem from the calicivirus and the herpesvirus.
How Long Does a Cat’s Cold Last?
You can expect a cat’s cold to last as long as a cold of your own. Typically, this means seven to ten days, unless the cold is more serious. Some colds can last as long as twenty-one days. Cats are most contagious and able to spread their cold to other cats during the incubation period, which is usually the first two to ten days after the cat has become infected.
Serious colds have to be monitored closely as they could very easily lead to pneumonia in your cat. Sometimes cats can have a recurring cold, even when properly treated. This can also lead to pneumonia, so it’s important to keep an eye on your kitty if you suspect he may be developing a cold.
Symptoms of Colds in Cats
In the majority of cases, a cat’s symptoms will be minor and resolve on their own without treatment. In other cases, cats may develop more serious respiratory infections. Kittens, elderly cats, or cats that are already sick are the most vulnerable and will need to see a vet for treatment as soon as possible if you suspect they are ill.
Milder symptoms of a cat cold include:
- Runny nose (clear)
- Runny eyes (clear)
More serious symptoms of a cat cold include:
- Appetite loss
- Excess swallowing (due to drainage)
- Severe congestion
- Struggles breathing
- Breathing with the mouth open
- Coughing or sneezing excessively
- Painful mouth, nose, or eye ulcers
- Thick discharge from eyes and nose (yellow, green, white)
How Do Cats Get a Cold?
Colds in cats are transmitted the same way colds are transmitted in humans. If they are exposed to another cat that’s already sick, they can contract the illness themselves. Especially if the other cat is sneezing and coughing a lot, with a lot of discharge. Cats with weaker immune systems are more susceptible to viruses and bacteria than healthier cats, which means kittens, elderly cats, and cats with already compromised immune systems may get a cold more often than healthier felines.
Cats that sneeze and cough can spray minuscule drops of discharge into the air that can quickly infect other kitties that are in close proximity. This is why cats in shelters and pet stores get sick at the same time. Unfortunately, cat colds can be spread in other ways too, including direct contact and through contamination of objects a cat uses on a frequent basis, like food bowls and bedding.
If you have more than one cat in your household and suspect one may have a cold, you should wash all bedding, blankets, bowls, and toys in soapy water to kill germs and bacteria and try to prevent the cold from spreading to your other cats. If possible, keep your cat with the cold isolated until he feels better.
Diagnosing a Cat with a Cold
Although you can usually tell for yourself if your cat has a cold, you should see a vet to determine the underlying cause. You definitely don’t want to ignore it, especially if it doesn’t clear up on its own quickly. It’s especially important to see your vet if your cat displays more severe symptoms like a fever, lethargy, and dehydration. The sooner your cat is seen and treated, the better.
Once you see your vet they may want to run a few different tests, like blood and chemistry levels, an electrolyte check, and possibly a urine test. Some vets may want to test for other viruses like feline immunodeficiency or cat leukemia just to rule it out and be safe. If your cat seems to suffer from chronic colds, a vet may order more tests like x-rays and cell cultures to make sure there’s nothing else wrong they may be missing. Cultures may also be taken if your cat presents with ulcers in their nose, mouth, or throat.
Can Cats Transmit the Illness to Humans?
While there have been a couple cases documented of a cat making an owner sick and vice versa, that was related to the H1N1 flu virus. Due to its rarity, you should not be concerned about contracting a cold from your cat.
Most cat colds are related to viruses and bacterium that are specific to the species and are not considered spreadable to humans (zoonotic). Just to be safe, always wash your hands when handling a cat with a cold and try to stay out of their way if you yourself have a cold. Again, it’s not common or even likely, but viruses and bacteria adapt all the time, so it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Treating a Cat’s Cold
Treatments of a cold in a cat will really depend on how severe the cold is. Often a cold will resolve itself without any intervention on your part, especially if your cat’s symptoms are mild. It’s only when a cold gets more severe that treatment with medications and fluids become necessary.