Cat Cold: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

Just like people, cats can get colds. The name “cat cold” is another way of describing an upper respiratory infection. A feline upper respiratory infection or URI, affects a cat’s nasal passages, sinuses, oral cavity, pharynx, and voice box (larynx).

Cat colds are caused by either viruses or bacteria. If you hear your cat sneeze, and also notice sniffles (runny nose), watery eyes, congestion, cough or fever it might be a sign that she’s sick with a kitty cold.

Causes of Cat Cold

Two of the most common viruses that cause colds in cats are feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus (FCV).

Feline herpesvirus type 1 (FHV-1) is believed to cause upward of 80% to 90% of all infectious feline upper respiratory infections.

Although vaccines are available for feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus (both are part of a combo vaccine that also protects against feline panleukopenia virus), these vaccines don’t provide complete immunity.

Similar to the way that humans can still get the flu even if they get the flu vaccine, cats can still come down with colds due to contracting feline herpesvirus or feline calicivirus. However, cats that are vaccinated and tend to have milder symptoms that cats that are not vaccinated against these viruses.

Two common bacteria that cause colds in cats are Chlamydophila felis (C. felis; formerly known as Chlamydia psittaci) and Bordetella bronchiseptica.

C. felis generally causes conjunctivitis (inflammation of the mucous membranes of the eye and eye lid) and runny eyes.

Bordetella causes fever, sneezing, coughing, and runny nose and eyes. There is a vaccine for Bordetella, which is typically recommended for high-risk cats (such as those housed in animal shelters, boarding facilities and breeding catteries).

Are Cat Colds Contagious to Humans?

Although people come down with colds and cats come down with colds, the viruses and bacteria that cause them are not the same across species. Whether you are sick with a human cold or your cat is sick with a feline cold, feel confident that you can cuddle your cat and not pass the colds between you.

There is one caveat here.

Although it is not considered a “cold,” it should be noted that the novel coronavirus that first appeared in late 2019 (COVID-19) and quickly spread throughout the world has been shown to pass from humans to cats.

As of the date of this posting, there has been no evidence to suggest that cats can transmit COVID-19 to humans. Additionally, in one study of cats living in Wuhan, China, (the epicenter of the pandemic), all the cats that contracted COVID-19 did not suffer serious symptoms of disease, nor did any of the positive cats die during the researchers’ follow-up.

However, the study’s lead researcher, Meilin Jin, states that “measures should be considered to maintain a suitable distance between COVID-19 patients and companion animals such as cats and dogs.” If you or someone in your household is diagnosed with COVID-19 talk to your veterinarian about any measures you should take to protect the pets in the home.

Although the common cat cold is not contagious to humans, it is contagious to other cats. Sick cats can pass colds to other cats when they share the same water bowl, food bowl and litter box.

Cat Cold Hugging Toy

With plenty of rest and possibly medication from your vet, most cats will recover from a cold in a week or two.

Symptoms of a Cat Cold

The symptoms of a cat cold are very similar to the symptoms of a human cold.

If you see one or more of the following signs, your sick cat might have a cold:

  • Runny nose (clear or colored nasal discharge)
  • Runny eyes (clear or colored eye discharge)
  • Congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty breathing (severe cases)

Diagnosing a Cat Cold

If you think your cat has a cold, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. Other things can cause symptoms similar to a cat cold, so your vet will perform a complete physical exam, closely inspecting your cat’s eyes, ears and mouth, as well as listening to the lungs, to come up with a diagnosis.

Cat colds can sometimes worsen.

Cats with viral infections can also develop secondary bacterial infections, which may lead to pneumonia.

It’s important to get your cat checked out any time you see cold symptoms, especially if your cat is not eating or drinking normally, or if she is showing signs of breathing difficulties (fast breathing, panting, open-mouth breathing, gasping, struggling to breath or wheezing). If your vet suspects pneumonia, he might recommend chest x-rays.

Cat Cold Treatment

Depending on your cat’s symptoms, your veterinarian might prescribe medications, such as oral antibiotics and/or eye drops or eye ointment.

If your vet suspects that your cat has a cold caused by a virus, treatment may include an antiviral medication. If your cat is very sick or dehydrated, she might need to be admitted to the hospital for supportive care, including IV fluids and monitoring.

You should keep your infected cat away from other cats until the cold is completely gone.

Cat Cold Wipe Nose

If your cat’s cold is causing a runny nose, wipe it clean with a damp cloth or cotton ball several times a day.

Cat Cold Home Remedy

If you cat has a cold, there are things you can do at home to help ease your cat’s discomfort. A humidifier can help with congestion.

Alternatively, you can put your cat in the bathroom with the door closed while running hot water  so she can breathe in the steam (do this for 10 or 15 minutes, a few times a day). If your cat has a lot of nasal discharge, gently wipe her nose a few times a day with a soft, clean cloth soaked in warm water or moist cotton ball.

Encourage your cat to eat and drink by offering favorite foods and flavoring your cat’s water with a splash of low-sodium chicken broth or tuna juice.

How Long Does a Cat Cold Last?

Most cats fully recover from a cold in about a week or two, although some cat colds may take up to three weeks to go away completely. If your cat’s cold doesn’t seem to be getting any better, call your veterinarian.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can you tell if your cat has a cold?

The most common signs of a cat cold include runny nose, runny eyes, congestion, sneezing, coughing, fever, lethargy, and lack of appetite. It’s important to take your cat into the vet to confirm that it is a cold and so your cat can receive appropriate treatment.

How can I treat my cat’s cold at home?

Once your cat is seen by a vet and prescribed the proper medications, you can use a humidifier in a small room (or steamy bathroom) several times a day for about 15 minutes to help your cat breathe easier. Keep your cat’s nose clean by wiping off any discharge with a soft, wet cloth. Try to entice your cat to eat to keep her energy up and drink so she stays hydrated.

Do cat colds go away on their own?

Mild cat colds may go away on their own with no treatment. However, because cat colds can worsen and develop into more serious infections, it’s important to seek veterinary treatment if your cat’s cold continues for more than a few days, especially if the symptoms are not improving. If your cat’s cold symptoms become worse, do not delay making a veterinary appointment no matter how long the cold has been going on.

Jackie Brown

About Jackie Brown

Jackie Brown is a freelance writer specializing in the pet industry. She writes on all pet and veterinary topics, including general health and care, nutrition, grooming, behavior, training, veterinary and health topics, rescue and animal welfare, lifestyle, and the human-animal bond. Jackie is the former editor of numerous pet magazines and is a regular contributor to pet magazines and websites.

One thought on “Cat Cold: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

  1. AvatarMisty

    I have used diluted Organic Apple Cider Vinegar mixed in tuna water or other wet food (tuna masks the smell best) with every cat of mine that has had a cold and even for bladder infections and symptoms are better within 24 hours and completely gone within 3-4 days! I give it twice daily for 6 days to be sure. It works every time!
    1/4 tsp ACV diluted with 1/2 tsp water or tuna water mixed in wet food. If the cat has a stuffed up nose and won’t eat you can take 1/4 cup ACV and dilute with 1/2 water then dip the cats paws. The cat will lick it’s paws and get some that way

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