The short answer – yes, cats can catch “colds,” just like humans can during cold and flu season. Unlike humans, however, cats aren’t so great at communicating when they’re not feeling well. What may look like a simple cold could develop into something more serious.
Here, I’ll go over everything you need to know to keep your cat healthy all year round.
What Does it Look Like When Cats Catch Colds?
Cat “colds” are known as feline upper respiratory infections, and it turns out they’re pretty common. They’re similar to human colds in a few important ways: they’re generally not too dangerous, they last about 7-10 days, and they’re usually caused by viruses. These kitty colds are often spread through contact with other sick cats, like through wet sneezes (gross)!
Common symptoms of colds in cats include:
- Discharge from the eyes and/or nose
- Poor appetite
No one knows your cat better than you do – if you pick up on changes in behavior, chances are that your cat isn’t feeling too well. Is your normally cuddly cat avoiding you or remaining in his favorite hiding spot? Is your sassy, aloof cat refusing to get out of your lap? These are indications that something’s going on with her or her health, especially if you notice these strange behaviors over an extended period of time.
When Should You Bring Your Cat to the Vet?
Kittens like this cutie are particularly susceptible to colds (like human kids) because of their fragile immune systems.
So we’ve gone over the symptoms of feline upper respiratory infections, and to be honest, they don’t seem too scary. Why would you have to bring your cat to the vet for a cold?
The bottom line is that cats are very good at hiding when they’re not feeling well. This is a survival instinct – they don’t want to appear weak because this makes them vulnerable to potential predators. Consequently, obvious signs of illness or discomfort in your pet are a big deal. If you’re noticing behavioral changes in a cat that you suspect is ill, it’s generally better to be safe than sorry.
If you notice any of the following in particular, it’s time to get your cat medical attention:
- Poor appetite
- Dehydration, failure to drink
- Trouble breathing
Upper respiratory infections sometimes develop into pneumonia, which may be life-threatening – worsening symptoms indicate that something more serious than a cold might be going on.
How Are Colds Treated in Cats?
So you bring Fluffy to the vet and you’re wondering what to expect. Your veterinarian will likely take many factors into account when deciding how to treat your cat, including medical history, age, and symptoms. She may take cultures from your pet’s mouth or nose, especially if ulcers are present, to pinpoint exactly what pathogen may be causing the infection.
She may even prescribe antibiotics to treat or prevent secondary infections (who knew cats were so delicate?), or even give your cat fluids to combat dehydration. Ultimately, you'll have to talk to your vet about appropriate treatment plans.
Your cat will likely spend time recovering at home (unless your vet determines something more serious is going on that requires hospitalization). Here are some things you can do to help your cat more comfortable:
- Administer medications exactly as directed by your vet (if applicable)
- Clear nasal discharge with a damp cloth
- Provide several bowls of fresh, clean water to encourage drinking
- Provide appetizing wet food if you see a decrease in appetite
- Make it easier to breathe by bringing out a humidifier
It’s not too complicated to care for a cat with a cold – they pretty much want the same things we do when we’re sick!
Keeping your cats healthy means they'll have more time to do what they love - which first and foremost is napping.
There are some things you can do to prevent kitty colds before they start. Perhaps the most important – and most surprising – thing you can do is to keep your cat up on his vaccines! Current distemper vaccines now help protect against the most common causes of upper respiratory infections.
If you’re trying to stop the spread of illness in a multi-cat household, it’s best to quarantine the poor kitty that’s trying to recover so he doesn't interact with any healthy animals. You’ll also want to disinfect any and all shared items (e.g. food and water bowls, litter boxes, and bedding). Make sure to wash your hands before interacting with any other animals after handling your sick pet. This is a good preventative measure when bringing any new animal into your home for the first couple of weeks, even if he or she isn’t displaying any symptoms.
Finally, don't worry about Fluffy passing his cold on to you - his cold is likely species-specific, meaning all you have to concern yourself with is making sure he feels better!