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When a Cat Has a Cold or Flu – Symptoms and Treatment

Picture of a cat outdoors

Cats can have a cold or even flu just as we, humans, can. In fact, they can develop a wide variety of viral and bacterial respiratory infections. In most situations, though, colds and flu cases are caused by viruses.

In this post, we’ll look at the common clinical signs that cat guardians can see in their feline friends whenever they have a respiratory infection. We’ll also address the topic of how it can be treated and prevented. 

How can you tell that your cat has a cold or flu?

Respiratory infections don’t all have the same symptoms, so that’s why you could notice a variety of clinical signs or just one. Some cats can have a fever and actually cough while others can lose their appetite for food and water and be more lethargic. 

Here are some other signs that can give you a pointer as to whether your feline companion has a cold or not:

  • Difficult breathing
  • Eye or nasal discharge (the cat has a runny nose)
  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Ulcers around the nose, mouth, or eyes 
  • Dehydration
  • Open-mouth breathing

Many cats don’t even get to the point they start coughing. If the infection affects just the upper respiratory tract, you might notice just some sneezing and small amounts of eye and nasal discharge. 

Treatment

Not all respiratory infections need a particular therapy, and the reason for this is that many viruses do not survive that well in high temperatures. So, if your cat ends up with a fever, sometimes it can be the only way to kill the pathogen that has caused the infection. 

In most cases, the infection resolves by itself in a time span of 7 to 10 days. However, it is essential to note that this only happens if the pathogen wasn’t a particularly dangerous virus. Cats can have respiratory diseases that can be passed on to other cats, and they usually consist of Herpesvirus and Calicivirus infections. 

These viral diseases need serious treatment and often cause a range of other symptoms besides the ones that pertain to the respiratory tract. But if your cat is vaccinated and she just has a cold, it’s very likely that it will go away on its own.

On the other hand, there can be situations where the cat needs to receive some type of medicated therapy, including antibiotics, and these are usually recommended when the cat’s immune system isn’t on par. A cat that has an autoimmune disease, one that is too young or too old, has diabetes, or other chronic health problems, has a higher likelihood of developing complications. 

Since bacterial complications are usually associated with pneumonia (and the latter can be lethal), it is a good idea to administer antibiotics to a cat that’s known to have a depressed immune system. The antibiotic is not going to kill the virus, however.

One of the most commonly used antibiotics for respiratory infections in cats is amoxicillin, and it’s usually available in combination with clavulanic acid. Of course, there are other antibiotics that work for respiratory infections in cats, such as cephalexin. The vet will choose the appropriate one after performing a microbiological culture and an antibiogram. 

Cats that have a bad health status can receive fluid therapy at the vet clinic, vitamin supplementation, and medicine for their fever, too. 

Diagnosis

Most upper respiratory infections in our feline friends are caused by viruses that are similar to those that cause the flu in humans. 

Nevertheless, there can be cases where the cat also has oral ulcers, for example, which is why the vet will want to make a differential diagnosis between a so-called ‘ordinary’ cold or flu virus and one of the two infectious ones we’ve mentioned. 

Can you be of any help?

You can’t exactly prevent a respiratory infection in cats, and for the same reason that people get one once in a while. However, it’s true that indoor-only cats are less exposed to a large number of pathogens, which is why the prevalence of pneumonia, for example, in this category of cats is much, much lower than it is in outdoor ones. 

If you keep your cat in a warm and dry place, especially in the cold season, it’s quite likely that she’s not going to get a cold or flu. Vaccinate your cats to make sure that if they do develop a respiratory infection, they’re not too difficult to treat. 

In general, try to keep an eye on how your cat behaves. If you notice your pet not having any appetite for food or water for more than a day, it’s time to be concerned and closely watch out. If that happens for 1.5-2 days, it’s time to take your feline buddy to the vet clinic. 

How can a cat get a cold or flu in the first place?

Viruses aren’t particularly resistant to dry conditions, so in almost all situations, cats get respiratory infections directly from other cats or through the items that they share with them. For example, they can get it from their food and water bowls, if they share them with another cat, or directly from another animal if they go outside. 

Naturally, cats can also get infected if they stay at a cattery or if they are visited by a sitter that has other cats at home and that effectively acts as a vector. 

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