Can Cats Get Colds? Here's Everything You Need To Know

by Lila Batiari, DVM
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Can Cats Get Colds? Here's Everything You Need To Know
Yes, cats can get colds, also known as upper respiratory infections. Learn how cats can get a cold and what you can do to help your sick pet at home.

If you notice signs of sickness in your cat, you might be wondering, “Do cats get colds?” The short answer is: yes. Upper respiratory infections (URIs), also known as the standard cold, are one of the most common health issues in cats. Like humans, cats can catch colds and exhibit many of the same symptoms, such as sneezing, watery eyes, and runny nose.

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This article explains the typical signs of a cold in cats, what you can do if your cat has a cold, and when it’s time to get help from your vet. Navigate the links below to learn more:

How can a cat get a cold?

Cats can catch a cold by coming into contact with a virus or bacteria. These infections are primarily airborne and spread through aerosolization, but they can also transmit through water.

Humans cannot get a cold from cats, but it is highly contagious among the feline species, especially in shelters, boarding kennels, or catteries.

Due to their regular contact with other cats, outdoor cats are significantly more prone to developing colds. However, indoor cats are not immune to colds. Petting a sick cat and then interacting with your cat at home might be enough to expose your pet to viruses and germs from outside the house.

Common causes of cat colds

90% of colds in cats are caused by the feline herpesvirus (also known as feline rhinotracheitis virus) and feline calicivirus**.1 Both are highly contagious, but fortunately, there are vaccines for kittens and cats available. Although immunization might not entirely prevent infection, it can aid in symptom reduction and the prevention of major illnesses.

If a cat’s cold is due to a bacterial infection, it’s most likely caused by one of three species: chlamydia, bordetella, or mycoplasma.

Typical symptoms of a cold in cats

Cat colds usually start with sneezing, then additional signs begin to appear within the next 24 hours. Other common symptoms of an upper respiratory infection in cats include:

  • Sniffles or congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Dehydration

How long do cat colds last?

Most feline colds last between seven and ten days and aren’t dangerous. It could be necessary to see a veterinarian if your cat has cold symptoms that don’t improve after four days.

Without prompt treatment, some upper respiratory illnesses can become serious and may result in pneumonia, which would significantly extend the recovery period — especially if your pet requires medical attention for the secondary condition.

How to treat a cat’s cold at home

Treatment of respiratory infections in cats depends on the severity, but generally includes supportive care. The symptoms may be frustrating for you and your cat to deal with, but many mild upper respiratory infections are self-limited and often resolve without treatment.

However, there are a few things you can do at home to speed up your pet’s recovery:

Over-the-counter cold medicine for cats

Always treat your cat with a medication intended for use in cats as prescribed by your veterinarian. Over-the-counter human medication is not recommended for cats. Never give your cat Tylenol (acetaminophen).

Home remedies for cats with a cold

If your cat’s symptoms are minor and they can still complete their vital activities (such as eating, drinking, and urinating), you can aid their recovery by placing a humidifier in your home. If the air in your house is dry, you can also try a steam treatment from a hot shower.

Cats with nose congestion may have trouble smelling food and quit eating. If your cat stops eating, contact your veterinarian straight away. Also, consider adding an extra blanket to your cat’s bed to ensure they are warm and comfortable, so they’ll be encouraged to get plenty of rest.

When should I worry about my cat sneezing?

If your cat is sneezing and producing clear discharge, they don’t require a visit to the vet. However, breathing problems, excessive pus-like fluid from the eyes or nose, and refusing to eat for more than a day are all reasons to be concerned. If your pet exhibits any of these symptoms, take them to the vet. Also, make an appointment if your cat’s cold-like symptoms don’t show any improvement after four days.

Note: Young kittens, senior cats, pregnant cats, and cats with compromised immune systems are more likely to have difficulty recovering from an upper respiratory infection. In those cases, it might be necessary to seek veterinarian care, even for minor illnesses.

Your veterinarian will most likely prescribe drugs to treat your pet’s cold symptoms and any secondary bacterial infections. Your veterinarian may recommend eye ointments, antiviral drugs for severe viral infections, or antibiotics for bacterial infections.

Your cat may need to stay at the hospital for a day or two until they are stable enough to continue their therapy at home if they are so unwell that they are having trouble breathing or refusing to eat. Treatment for more severe cases may include oxygen therapy, fluids to increase hydration, or even a feeding tube if the animal refuses to eat.

If you are looking for ways to keep your cat healthy and happy, consider investing in cat insurance. Pet insurance provides owners with a financial safety net for unexpected and often expensive veterinary bills to ensure their pet gets the essential care they need with less financial hardship incurred.

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Key Takeaways

  • Cat colds are similar to the common cold in people and are usually caused by bacteria or viruses that affect felines.
  • Symptoms of a cat cold include sneezing, coughing, discharge from the nose or eyes, decreased appetite, fever, and lethargy. Some cats might experience complications, such as pneumonia or secondary bacterial infection.
  • Mild cases of cat cold typically don’t require any medical treatment and will resolve on their own within 7-10 days. At-home care with a humidifier, steam therapy, and stress reduction can help with your pet’s recovery.
  • If your cat has been exhibiting cold symptoms and shows no signs of improvement within four days, be sure to contact your vet.

FAQs on Feline Colds

How do indoor cats catch colds?

When they are extremely young or when living in a shelter with other cats, most cats are exposed to the feline calicivirus or feline herpesvirus. Both viruses remain in a cat’s system for life following exposure, so although they typically seem healthy, cats may start to exhibit cold-like symptoms under stress.

Can a cat catch a cold from being out in the rain?

The rain itself cannot make cats ill. Your cat will not contract a cold or any other disease by being soaked in rainwater.

Can cats get colds from humans?

No, cats are unable to catch colds from people. The majority of viruses are extremely species-specific and, therefore, will not survive in a different host.

How can you tell if a cat has a cold?

Cats with colds might exhibit symptoms like sneezing, coughing, runny nose, watery eyes, fever, lethargy, and reduced appetite.

What can you do for a cat with a cold?

You can help your cat recover with steam therapy, using a humidifier, decreasing stress, and making sure they have a nice warm space where they can rest. However, if your pet is still unwell after four days or has more severe symptoms, be sure to see the vet.

Do cat colds go away on their own?

Yes, in most cases, the typical symptoms of a cat cold will go away on their own in about seven to ten days.

How do you treat a kitten with a cold at home?

While colds are usually nothing more than an annoyance for adult kitties, sickness in kittens should always be taken more seriously. In young kittens, colds can quickly become serious, leading to ulcers on the eyes, mouth, or nose, trouble breathing, or pneumonia. For this reason, you should consult your vet before treating your kitten’s cold at home.

References

  1. Glencoe Animal Hospital, "Feline Upper Airway Infections" Accessed July 7, 2022.
Veterinarian Lila Batiari

About the author

Lila Batiari, DVM

Small Animal Relief Veterinarian -

Lila Batiari, DVM is a relief veterinarian located in San Diego, California. She has a special interest in nutrition, pain management, and surgery! Dr. Batiari enjoys working with Pawlicy Advisor to help others avoid everyday situations that some of her clientele experience. She realizes that expensive vet bills for treatment costs could be much easier for patients with pet insurance.

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