Can Cats Get the Flu or a Cold?

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When cold and flu season's in full swing, you work hard to keep yourself free from illness, but what about your feline friend? Can she get cat flu? Can a cat catch a cold?

What about the Coronavirus?

As a concerned pet parent, reading about coronavirus disease COVID-19 might prompt you to wonder about the risk of infection between you and your pet. At this time, there is no evidence that pet dogs, cats, food, or food packaging could be a source of infection to other animals or humans. As the Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation continues to evolve, it’s important to monitor updates with the World Health Organization as new information arises.

To date, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has no reports of animals in the United States that have been identified with the virus, and there is no evidence that dogs or other pets can contract or spread the human version of the virus. If you still have concerns, it’s best to talk to your veterinarian.

Can We Get Each Other Sick?

If you have the flu or a cold, don't worry too much about transferring the illness to your pet. There are documented cases of pet parents transferring the H1N1 virus to their household cats, notes Smithsonian magazine, and cats may transfer it to humans; however, it's very rare. In 2009, when the H1N1 virus (aka swine flu) was considered an epidemic in the United States, there was cause for concern because H1N1 transferred from animals (pigs, in this instance) and infected humans.

Striped gray cat with green eyes burries head as she lies on a bed

The Nature of the Virus

Cats are capable of catching the flu, as well as upper respiratory infection caused by one of two viruses: feline herpesvirus or feline calicivirus. Cats of all ages are susceptible, but young and old kitties are particularly vulnerable because their immune systems are not as strong as cats in their prime.

Cats catch the virus when they come into direct contact with an infected cat or the viral particles, explains VCA Animal Hospitals. The organization adds, "the virus is excreted in saliva and in discharges from the eyes and nose of an infected cat." Therefore, it's important to keep your cat away from other cats that are sick.

If your cat contracts the flu or an upper respiratory infection, the virus may stick around, says Love That Pet. "Unfortunately, cats that recover from cat flu may become temporary or permanent virus carriers. This means that they may shed the virus into the environment, even if they do not appear to be sick anymore." Once your cat catches the flu, keep an eye out for recurring symptoms.

If you suspect that your cat has the flu, symptoms to look out for include:

  • Lethargy
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite and not drinking water
  • Runny eyes and/or nose
  • Trouble breathing

Call your veterinarian right away, and expect to bring in your fur baby for a checkup.

Treatment and Prevention

Vaccinating your cat and keeping those vaccinations up to date will maintain your pet's health and help prevent illness. Another key factor is keeping the germs away: wash your hands thoroughly and often (and ask others to do the same); sanitize any infected areas, such as bedding, clothing and towels; and avoid contact with anyone (and any animal) who may be sick.

Animals can contract illnesses from other animals, so it's important to keep your healthy cat separated from ill pets. Eye and ear discharge and saliva are common ways animals spread germs, so separate food and water stations.

As noted, if you suspect the flu or a cold, contact your veterinarian immediately. According to PetMD, "There is no cure for influenza and treatment is symptomatic in nature. Nursing care may be required to keep the eyes and nose clean and clear of discharges." Possible treatments include antibiotics and fluids to prevent dehydration. Your vet will provide you with a detailed treatment plan.

During her recuperation, your fur baby will need a lot of love and attention, and she'll want to do the same for you if you're under the weather. This may be tricky if you're also sick, but take comfort in the fact that once you're both healthy, you can smother each other with affection.

Contributor Bio

Christine O'Brien

Christine O'Brien

Christine O'Brien is a writer, mom, and long-time pet parent whose two Russian Blues rule the house. Her work also appears in, What to Expect, and Fit Pregnancy, where she writes about family life, pets, and pregnancy. Find and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien

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