Cats are hardy animals, but they can get sick like any other living creature. If your cat has streaming eyes and a runny nose, it will be concerning. If the cat starts sneezing too, it will become clear that is has caught a cold.
Feline colds are known as upper respiratory infections. Feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus are the most common examples. Both of these viral infections are contagious but can be vaccinated against. If your cat does come down with a cold, most will recover after 1-2 weeks. Just let your cat rest in a warm and peaceful location.
Not all sneezing is due to a feline cold. Your cat must display multiple symptoms to be diagnosed with a URI. However, it pays to know why your cat is sneezing all the time.
Table of Contents:
- 1 Does My Cat Have a Cold?
- 2 How Do Cats Catch Colds?
- 3 Can Cats Catch Human Colds?
- 4 Protecting a Cat from Colds
- 5 Helping a Cat with a Cold
Does My Cat Have a Cold?
Cats can experience a range of illnesses with cold-like symptoms. These are known as upper respiratory infections.
If your cat is displaying a range of cold or flu-adjacent symptoms, an URI is likely. Examples of symptoms of these warnings include:
- Runny nose and eyes
- Coughing, wheezing, and sneezing
- Conjunctivitis and bloodshot eyes
- Body temperature above 100 degrees Fahrenheit
- Trouble breathing
- Lack of energy
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of interest in grooming
If your cat displays none of these symptoms beyond sneezing, a URI infection is likely. Sneezing can be brought on by temporary irritations to the nose, such as dust or grass.
Alternatively, your cat may have an allergy. Removal of triggers will cease sneeze attacks. Cats can be allergic to any number of items, including:
- Air fresheners
- Laundry detergent
- Household cleaning products
- Plastics or other textiles
- New litter
- Perfume or cologne
- Cigarette smoke
As a rule, a cat with a nasal irritation or allergy will release’ dry’ sneezes. This means a loud sneeze that contains no mucus. If your cat releases nasal discharge while sneezing, a URI is likely.
Are Colds Dangerous for Cats?
Ordinarily, a URI is nothing too serious. Most cats will just need to recover at their own pace. The only cure is plenty of fluids and a prolonged period of rest. Ensure your cat has a warm, quiet place to sleep and recover.
Older cats can face more risk from URIs. These infections compromise feline immunity, which is already weaker in senior cats. If you spot any secondary concerns, seek advice. Your cat may need a course of antibiotics.
Obvious worries are difficulty breathing or loss of appetite for over 24 hours. In either case, seek immediate help. Otherwise, just give your cat some privacy and observe from afar. Depending on age and the severity of the URI, recovery may take up to two weeks.
Feline Respiratory Infections
URIs in cats typically come in one of two forms, Feline herpesvirus (FHV) or feline calicivirus (FCV). If your cat shows signs of cold or ‘flu-like symptoms, these viruses are the likely culprits.
Sometimes called feline viral rhinopneumonitis, or FVR, feline herpesvirus is the most common cat URI. All cats are likely to come down with this infection at some stage. Vaccination is recommended to minimize the impact of any symptoms.
Once a cat develops FHV, it never fully leaves. The virus remains in the cat’s body, lying dormant. This can be reignited by stress. A cat that lives with anxiety will have lower immunity. If it has already struggled with FHV, it will experience a repeat.
It is important to keep a senior cat’s environment calm and stress-free. The combination of FHV and anxiety will have significant repercussions. Get your cat into a calm, regular routine and avoid anything potentially triggering.
Set up a home recovery regime and keep an eye open. Your cat should recover of its own accord. If you discover any secondary conditions or are worried, seek professional advice.
Alongside FHV, calicivirus is the ‘other’ major URI to impact cats. Like FHV, this virus can be immunized against. This is arguably even more important, as FCV can be a tricky virus. Unlike FHV, calicivirus comes in a variety of strains.
Calicivirus can also have a more significant impact on cats, especially older felines. Research in Veterinary Science explains how FCV is linked to acute arthritis and lameness. Conjunctivitis and other ocular concerns are also an ever-present risk.
Like FHV, FCV can be treated at home. As there is no cure, only patience can be prescribed. Be vigilant about watching your cat and keeping it as happy and comfortable as possible.
How Do Cats Catch Colds?
All felines can be suspectable to colds, even indoor cats. Brachycephalic breeds are likely to contract regular colds though. This is theoretically due to the flat shape of their face impacting the respiratory tract.
Your pet is likely to contract an URI at least once one its life. Younger and older cats are most prone to infection due to slightly weaker immune systems. This means that such cats will also be hit harder by URIs. They will typically take longer to recover.
Do all you can to protect your cat from URIs, but do not blame yourself when they happen. It is virtually impossible to avoid any and all germs in the world. Keeping a cat inside helps, but it’s still not failsafe. There are three primary transmission methods for URIs.
As URIs are contagious, the commonest route to infection is proximity to other cats. If you have multiple cats in a home, URIs will sweep through them all. If your cat wanders outside, it may catch the infection from another cat.
These viruses live on surfaces, so your cat does not need to physically touch another animal. Sharing a bed, bench or bowl will be enough. The infection will catch faster by physical interaction, though.
It’s the discharge from a cat’s eyes and nose that carry the virus. If two cats rub heads as a greeting, they will pass the infection back and forth. Confrontation, including biting and scratching, will spread it even faster.
This is one of the reasons vaccinations is advisable. You never know if another cat in your neighborhood has been immunized. Alternatively, your cat may encounter a stray or feral feline. These animals are likely to carry a range of illnesses.
There are countless reasons to keep your cat free of parasitic infestation. The risk of contagious disease is just one of them.
If a cat with a URI has fleas, these parasites will obviously drink the cat’s blood. Once they have eaten their fill, the fleas will seek another host. If your cat is in the wrong place at the wrong time, it will become infested.
Once the fleas start to feed on your cat, they’ll pass on the infection. Your cat now has two problems to deal with. Keep on top of parasite deterrent treatments to minimize this risk. A cat with FHV or FCV will be miserable enough without parasitic invaders.
Even if you keep your cat indoors, it is not completely safe from URIs. Indoor cats can catch colds from airborne virus particles. A cat can also catch a contagious virus from drinking tap water.
When a cat has a URI, the virus lives in the ocular and nasal discharge. This means that, when a cat sneezes, the virus enters the atmosphere. Cats do not use tissues or cover their noses when they sneeze.
It’s rare, but the virus particles could enter a home through a window. The particles will live in the air for several hours. This means that your cat may breathe them in and become infected. The virus can also live on furniture, curtains or drapes that your cat touches.
URI virus particles tend to live for around 18 hours in damp conditions. They die off faster in dry areas, and can be killed with disinfectant. It’s borderline impossible to guarantee a home will be devoid of risk. Closing windows and regularly freshening air will help, though.
Can Cats Catch Human Colds?
If you have a sniffle yourself, you cannot pass it onto your cat. Likewise, if your cat has a URI, it will not make you sick. While there are zoonotic diseases shared between felines and humans, colds are not among them. These infections are species-specific.
In fact, you may find that your cat becomes more affectionate when you are sick. There could be a range of explanations for this. In some cases, the cat is simply being affectionate. It wants to ensure you recover. It also could be stealing body heat if you’re running a fever.
In some cases, a dominant cat may be planning a power play. If you have strict rules in your home, the cat may start disobeying them. Cats can sense ill health and consider it weakness. Ask somebody to keep an eye on your cat. Do not allow it to develop bad habits.
Protecting a Cat from Colds
Unless a vet advises against it due to safety concerns, cats should be vaccinated against URIs. Vaccines against FHV and FCV are part of a standard offering. Get your cat the protection that it needs. While URI vaccination is not a legal requirement in most states, it is recommended.
Vaccination does not mean that a cat will never catch a cold again. Vaccines will minimize the impact this infection has on your cat, though. It will recover faster and experience fewer symptoms. Colds will also be a considerably less frequent occurrence.
You’ll need to get your cat a booster vaccination every year. Like strains of human ‘flu, these viruses mutate over time. A small dose of a live strain will be supplied to keep your cat protected.
Helping a Cat with a Cold
If your cat has a cold, it must be kept inside. Better yet, keep your cat contained to one room. This essential if you have multiple cats in the home. One sick pet at a time is enough for anybody to manage.
There is no hard and fast rule about how long it will take a cat to recover from a URI. Some cats bounce back in a day or two. Others can take weeks to regain full strength. Keep monitoring your cat’s progress. You should see small, incremental improvements every day.
Check in on your cat and clean it up. Ensure that discharge from the eyes and nose is cleared. Ensure your cat is warm enough, and that it is eating and drinking. You’ll need to be attentive and watchful until the cat fully recovers. In most cases, this will happen at home without the need for veterinary intervention.
Pay particular attention to your cat’s eyes. The Journal of Veterinary Medical Science explains how URIs can lead to conjunctivitis. This issue will leave your cat with problems long after it has recovered from its cold.
If your cat is sick, immediately clear a room for it. The cat needs complete privacy and personal territory during this period. The only way it will get better is with sleep.
Choose the room and make it as cat friendly as possible. This means you’ll need:
- Food bowl and water supply
- A litter box
- A bed
- Stimulation, such as climbing trees and toys
- A hiding place
Ensure the room is suitably warm. The ambient temperature should be a minimum of 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Ensure the cat’s bed is not located close to any drafts. Consider moving it away from a window, too. The cat will be sleeping a lot and could burn in the sun.
Make it clear to the residents of your home, especially children, that the room is off-limits. Cats can grow distressed when disturbed while recovering from a URI. This will just prolong the illness. You can visit your cat occasionally but establish a calm routine to do so.
Food and Water
Food and water are important to a sick cat. Your cat needs to eat to keep up its strength. It may not be interested in traditional food though. Cats use scent to decide if something appears appealing to eat. If the cat has a cold, its sense of smell will be impacted.
Work around this by applying strong, tempting scents to wet food. Drizzled tuna juice is irresistible to most cats. If your cat prefers a more meat-based flavor, use gravy.
Fluids are even more important. A sick cat can quickly become dehydrated. This is always dangerous, but especially so if the cat has a URI. Invest in a water fountain to convince your cat to drink heartily. It’s the only way to be safe.
You could combine resolutions to these two issues by serving your cat liquid meals. Mix up a meaty bone broth for your cat. This should smell strong enough to entice eating. It will also taste comforting and reassuring, while also offering enhanced hydration.
Your cat needs peace and quiet while recovering from a cold, but don’t abandon it. Make time to spend a little time with your cat each day. Remind the cat that it has not been forgotten.
Do not force a cat into exercise while it is recovering from a URI. Breathing will already be a challenge. You place the cat at risk by pushing it too hard. Encourage your cat to move a little, even if it’s just walking to the litter box. That’s enough physicality.
Beyond this, simply keep your cat company. Offer a little gentle petting if your cat welcomes this. Do not attempt to handle the cat. That will likely be painful. Some level of physical comfort may help your cat stay calm, though.
You should also talk to your cat throughout this time. It will draw some comfort from the sound of your voice. Sit in your favorite char and read to your cat while it dozes. This will be relaxing and reassuring for both of you.
When it’s time to leave, consider playing your cat some feline-specific music. The Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery confirms that this lowers stress in cats. This will help your cat relax and aid recovery.
Unless your cat experiences complications, it should not require medication for a URI. The cat will recover naturally with rest. Patience is key. Medication can only manage symptoms and reduce their impact.
If you feel that your cat is in pain, speak to a vet. You may be able to get a painkiller prescription. These must be designed exclusively for felines. Never offer a cat human medication. As per Gastroenterology, aspirin causes ulcers in a cat’s stomach.
If your cat is struggling to breathe, a nasal spray can be prescribed. Alternatively, just run hot water in a bathroom to create steam. Leave your cat to breathe this is in for a few minutes and airways will clear.
Eventually, if your cat does not seem to be getting any better, antibiotics may be offered. Just be wary of this approach. Antibiotics are indiscriminate. They will kill off good bacteria as quickly as the infection. You’ll need supplements to rebuild these.
If your cat is sneezing regularly, it likely has a cold. While rarely dangerous, this will leave your cat feeling a little flat. Let your cat get some rest, checking in periodically. Look after your cat well and it will bounce back within a week or two.