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Cough and Cold in Cats: My Cat Has a Cold, What Should I do?

by Vetic Editorial
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Have you noticed how common cough and cold in cats has become? Almost every little kitten at any pet clinic has a “cold.” Cat parents often say, “Oh! It’s nothing. My cat has a cold. It’ll go away in 2 days.”

What is this cough and cold that’s affecting these cats? Do cats get it from the changing weather? Or, is it allergies? Let’s find out!

We have grown up hearing adults say, “Close the window or you will catch a cold” and “Don’t get drenched in the rain. You’ll get a fever”

Without going into any controversy, we can confirm the fact that your cat cannot catch a cold from the whimsies of the weather. Cough and cold in cats as well as humans is often used as an umbrella term to describe a runny nose, blocked nose, sore throat, throat pain and slight fever. 

If your cat has a cold it’s something your veterinarian should definitely check out!

The Truth Behind Cough And Cold In Cats: Feline Upper Respiratory Tract Infections (URIs)

In reality, these are all symptoms of at least one type of infection. Sadly, in the cases of “cough and cold” in cats, this infection is almost always viral. 

Veterinarians refer to cough and cold in cats as feline upper respiratory tract infections or (URIs or URTIs). unvaccinated kittens, kittens without complete vaccination and unvaccinated adult cats are predisposed to these viral infections. 

First things first, you can protect your precious kitty from almost all the viruses that cause URIs in cats by following the correct vaccination schedule

Secondly, humans cannot catch a cold from a cat. And cats cannot catch the “flu” virus from humans or even dogs!

How Does Cough And Cold in Cats Spread?

An orange tabby and a tortoise shell cat. The orange tabby is sniffing the food bowl in front of the other cat since it's food bowl is empty. the tortoise shell cat looks at the tabby displeased. Cough and cold in cats can spread quickly in multi-cat households through direct and indirect contact

The viruses that cause URIs are highly contagious and they spread through – 

  • Direct contact
  • Airborne particles (coughing and sneezing)
  • Shared belongings (bowls, beds and toys)

Just like cough and cold in humans, cats can catch “cold” from other cats and spread them among each other quickly. 

Your Cat Has Cough and Cold, What Should You Do?

It is almost impossible to maintain quarantine within a single house for infected and uninfected cats. If your cat has a cold, your first step should be to isolate them if you have other cats and observe the others for further symptoms. 

Kittens are always at a greater risk to develop severe breathing complications due to their underdeveloped immune system. In kittens, viral infections create opportunities for secondary bacterial infections of the lungs and digestive system. 

Next, take your cat to the veterinarian without further delay. Make sure to mention that your cat has a fever and a potential viral infection before you take them in. 

How Do Cats Get Cough and Cold?

The most common cause of cold and flu-like symptoms in cats are viral infections. Vets in the US report, around 90% of all cough and cold in cats are caused by either feline herpesvirus (rhinotracheitis) or feline calicivirus. 

Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (FVR) Causes Cough and Cold in Cats

Feline viral rhinotracheitis is a very contagious upper respiratory tract infection caused by Feline Herpesvirus-1 (FHV-1). It spreads extremely quickly especially in shelter or multi-cat environments. 

Cats, once infected with feline herpesvirus, will carry the viruses with them for the rest of their lives. 

In many instances of high-stress, including recovery from any surgery, cats will experience bouts of the infection complete with symptoms such as a blocked nose, discharge from the eyes, difficulty in breathing, high temperature and so on. 

Feline Calicivirus Causes Cough and Cold in Cats

This viral infection causes symptoms that are almost identical to that of herpesvirus infection. Just like the previous one, feline calicivirus infection is also highly contagious. 

In adult cats, the symptoms of this viral infection are less severe. However, irrespective of a cat’s age and health, the virus will remain in the cat’s system forever and trigger symptoms during times of stress.

What Are The Signs That My Cat Has An Upper Respiratory Tract Infection (URI)?

Mackerel kitten wrapped in a baby blue blanket, only face, ears and two front paws visible. sleeping with a thermometer. fever is a common symptom of cough and cold in cats and kittens.

The common signs of feline upper respiratory tract infection (URI) or cough and cold in cats include –

  • Sneezing 
  • Discharge from nose and eyes
  • Congestion or open-mouthed breathing
  • Coughing or excessive salivation 
  • Fever 
  • Lack of appetite 
  • Lethargy
  • Ulcers of the tongue, gum or lips

Once you see any of these signs of cough and cold in your cat, isolate them and follow quarantine protocols. Make sure to provide veterinary care on time to reduce the risk of secondary bacterial infections and other complications. 

What Is The Treatment For Cough And Cold In Cats?

1. No Standardised Treatment for Cough and Cold in Cats or Upper Respiratory Tract Infections (URIs)

Sadly, there is no standardised medication or treatment protocol for either of these infections. All the treatment a cat receives depends upon the symptoms they show. 

For example, if a cat has a blocked nose and difficulty in breathing, they may require nebulization with a bronchodilator. 

2. Fluid Therapy for Viral in Cats

If a cat has stopped eating and drinking they might receive fluids via an IV catheter along with necessary vitamins and minerals. 

3. Vet-Prescribed Meds & Antibiotics for Upper Respiratory Tract Infections (URIs)

Antibiotics do not treat viral infections such as the cat flu directly. Some supplements and medicines can ease the breathing discomfort in cats. 

However, your veterinarian may prescribe one antibiotic or more to prevent the occurrence of secondary bacterial infections that can cause pneumonia. 

4. Warmth and Humidity During Feline Viral Infections 

Keep your cat warm (unless they have a fever), and follow your veterinarian’s instructions about using medication during the infection period. 

Keep a humidifier in the room without any essential oils for making breathing a little easier for your kitty!

5. Reduction of Stress during URIs or Cough and Cold in Cats

Reduce the triggers of stress and anxiety for your cat. That means limit the veterinary visits as much as possible. (That will also limit the spread of the disease.) Keep them inside your/their room wherever they feel comfortable and safe. 

Most cats should recover from these viral infections within 7 to 10 days, provided they are healthy and receive timely treatment. 

How Did My Indoor Cat Catch A Cold?

Marbled tabby under a white crochet blanket with thermometer and pills strewn in front. Do not give your cat human fever medication if the show signs of cough and cold in cats.

Since these viruses are extremely contagious, they can actually travel from your outdoor cats to your indoor ones. When you touch an unknown but infected cat and go home to your kitty, you automatically expose your cat to these viruses. 

Another probability is that your indoor cat was exposed to the virus(es) when they were suckling or with their litter. A sudden spike in stress level caused the symptoms to become prominent. 

My Cat Is Fully Vaccinated, Are They Safe From Feline Upper Respiratory Tract Infections (URIs)?

FRCP vaccines offer your cat protection against multiple viruses including rhinotracheitis and calicivirus. However, the protection may not be 100% depending on your cat’s age, health and existing immunological complication.

That means, your cat may become infected but show no to little signs of the infection. 

If your furballs are indoor only you need to keep them indoors and if you have outdoor cats you need to keep them vaccinated as well. 

Your Cat Has a Cold: Contact the Vet!

Usually, vaccinated cats recover from mild upper respiratory tract infections within 7 days. However, if your cat has a cold you need to take them to the vet.  

Isolate your infected cat or kitten and then call the veterinarian. Do not give them any antibiotics or fever medicines without consulting the vet.

Here are the signs of Upper Respiratory Tract Infection (URI) that demand you to contact your veterinarian

  • No appetite for 24 hours
  • Discharge from nose and eyes
  • Breathing difficulties including open-mouthed breathing
  • Excessive salivation 
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Lethargy 

Your veterinarian can provide the medication and treatment that can resolve their breathing issues, stop excessive drooling and discharge and reverse their lack of appetite.

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