Does Your Cat Have A Cold?

Jan 3, 2021

If your cat has suddenly started sniffling, you may wonder whether they have come down with a cold. Your cat may have caught a cold, although it may not look the same in your cat as it does when you experience a common cold. 

To make things more confusing, cats are often extremely effective at hiding illness. Therefore, it can be very difficult to tell that your cat is sick until they start showing severe symptoms. 

Here’s what you need to know about cat colds and how to detect early symptoms to protect your feline companion.

Can You Catch a Cold From Your Cat?

If you’re worried that your cat will spread its cold to you, don’t be concerned. Cats cannot spread a cold to you and they can’t catch your cold. Some diseases can be passed between cats and people, but they are usually related to your cat scratching or biting you, not spread via respiratory infection like a cold.  

When cats experience cold symptoms, they are typically experiencing an upper respiratory infection. It looks a lot like a cold in people but they are caused by very different viruses.

Symptoms of a Cat Cold

Some symptoms of cat colds are similar between people and cats, but others are distinct to cats. Here are a few are the most common symptoms:

  • Sneezing, with or without discharge
  • Runny nose and sniffling
  • Coughing and congestion
  • Discharge from your cat around the eyes and nose
  • Ulcers around the nose and eyes or in the mouth
  • A high fever
  • Pawing at mouth and nose
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Choking or wheezing sounds when breathing
  • Appetite loss and weight loss
  • Poor grooming and coat condition
  • Lethargy and lack of interest in activities

It is very important to keep in mind that cats are excellent at masking their symptoms. Be wary of passing off potential symptoms as a few bad days or a bad mood. 

Cats do everything they can to hide disease, so if you suspect that something isn’t right, it is imperative that you bring your cat to the veterinarian or even talk to a licensed veterinarian for a virtual consult as soon as possible. 

Why Do Cats Cough?

Cats cough because they are overproducing mucus and need to clear it out. This can happen for many reasons. An infection, allergies, or a foreign body in the throat can all cause cough. If your cat is coughing extensively, it is important to talk to your veterinarian about any underlying causes that may be at play.

One reason that cats don’t cough is because of hairballs. Hairballs are vomited, not coughed up. This can be confusing for many people since the sounds of coughing and heaving are so similar. If you are not sure whether your cat is coughing or heaving, talk to your veterinarian about helping you make an accurate identification.

How To Help Your Cat Through an Upper Respiratory Infection

Your veterinarian may perform a number of treatments to help with your cat’s respiratory infection. Antibiotics are usually not effective against viruses that cause these sorts of infections, although they may be effective for secondary infections. 

Your veterinarian may administer antibiotics if the virus damages the lining of the airways in the nose enabling bacterial infections to enter and cause complications.

In most cases, your veterinarian is more likely to prescribe medication for fever-reducing and administer fluids to help with dehydration. They may also treat any underlying causes that can make the virus worse. 

While your cat is working through the virus, here are some things that you can do at home to help, with the okay of your veterinarian:

  • Use a damp, warm cloth to clean any areas around the nose or eyes that become crusty.
  • Run a hot shower or set up a dehumidifier to expose your cat to higher humidity for brief periods.
  • Offer lots of highly desirable food so that your cat will eat. Strong smelling foods are also important because cats tend to lose their sense of smell. Sardines, roast chicken, and strong-smelling wet cat food are all good options. For cats who seem unwilling to eat because of mouth ulcers, cream may be offered as well.
  • Don’t do anything to stress your cat. Give them somewhere warm and comfortable to rest.
  • Don’t offer any medications without the okay of your doctor. Medications like Tylenol and Advil can be very toxic to cats.

Prevent Other Cats From Catching the Virus

If one of your cats has come down with an upper respiratory infection and the others have not, you will want to do everything you can to keep your other cats from getting the virus. 

Here are a few things that you can do to reduce the likelihood that other cats in the household will be infected:

  • Isolate the sick cat in a separate room that is calm and quiet where they can rest. 
  • Put a towel under the door so that cats can’t interact with each other under the door.
  • Wash your hands very carefully every time you go from interacting with one cat to the other.
  • Use different food bowls, water bowls, and litter boxes, and be sure to disinfect anything after your cat has recovered
  • Put on a separate shirt when you go into the room with the infected cat to keep it from spreading as easily on your clothes. 

These are good tips to keep your cat from catching the virus, but these strategies are not foolproof. You must follow these recommendations strictly and consult with your veterinarian about whether cats should be kept in the same home at all. 

If your other cats have some sort of immunosuppression or for any other reason may be at more risk if they catch the virus, your veterinarian may recommend that those cats stay somewhere else until the sick cat has recovered and the environment has been sanitized. 

If you don’t have anywhere to have your cats stay, talk to your veterinarian about medical boarding. It may be more practical, in some cases, to have the infected cat stay at the vet for treatment and boarding. Talk to a veterinarian about what your options are when it comes to isolating the sick cat from other cats in the household. 

How Serious Are Upper Respiratory Infections in Cats?

Most cats recover from upper respiratory infections without much trouble, but there are exceptions. Some cats respond much worse to the virus than others, sometimes without very clear reasons why. In some cases, your cat will need to be admitted to the veterinary hospital and administered medication and IVs. 

You must do what you can to prevent your cat from having to struggle with this virus. Ideally, they will not have to experience getting sick at all. Be sure to always isolate new cats when they are coming into your home. Do not pet sit for any cat that might carry the virus. Prevention is key to preventing respiratory tract infections.

Long-Term Consequences

Cats that get an upper respiratory infection are considered carriers afterward. They may be infectious to other cats for some time. Sometimes carrier cats have a runny nose or eyes and sometimes they show very few symptoms. 

Stressful events often cause a recurrence of flu symptoms. Some cats that are very seriously affected have a lifelong runny nose because the nasal lining is damaged. 

Manage Your Cat’s Respiratory Infection With the Help of a  Qualified Veterinarian

A good veterinarian can offer your cat superb care to help them get through their upper respiratory infection more easily. Stress can make respiratory infections much worse, so choosing a veterinarian to talk to you remotely to help you manage your pet’s care without causing them additional stress by going into the actual vet’s office is extremely important.