Do cats get colds? This is one of the most frequently asked questions we receive here at PURINA, but the answer isn’t as simple as you may expect…. Read on to find out the basic facts about Cat Flu and what you can do to help your cat avoid it.
What is Cat Flu?
Cats, like people, are prone to contracting upper respiratory tract infections and Cat Flu is the generic name given to this in the feline world. It is important to realise that it is not a zoonotic disease i.e. it is not transmissible between cats and people.
Most commonly in cats it is caused by a virus and the two most common viral culprits, accounting for nearly 90% of all infections are: Feline Calicivirus (FCV) and Feline Herpesvirus (FHV). Less frequently bacteria may also cause or contribute to the overall infection and the two most common bacterial strains involved are: Bordetella bronchiseptica and Chlamydophila felis. Standard vaccination protocol in most countries, provides immunity against the two common viral causes.
How does infection occur?
Cats become infected through contact with other cats that are either actively infected and shedding the disease or cats that are invisible ‘carriers’ of the virus. Unfortunately due to the nature of the disease, once cats are infected they may become ‘carriers’. This means that they can actively shed the virus (or less commonly the bacterial) particles and spread disease, without showing any clinical symptoms themselves. The period during which they can maintain this ‘carrier’ state is not yet known, but may last anything from weeks to years.
Infection can also occur through contact with items that have been exposed to infection e.g. hands that haven’t been thoroughly washed or shoes that haven’t been cleaned. Hygiene is therefore a vital part of preventing the spread of this disease.
Clinical signs of Cat Flu can occur suddenly or be persistent over a long period of time. They may also wax and wane according to the immunity status of your cat, the level of stress they are experiencing and their level of contact with other cats.
Classic symptoms of the disease include fever, sneezing, nasal discharge, conjunctivitis, loss of appetite and sometimes mouth ulcers or coughing depending on the specific cause. If you notice any of these signs in your cat, it’s very important that you isolate your cat from other cats and make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible.
Your vet will generally diagnose Cat Flu based on a full physical exam and a thorough history of your cat’s vaccination status, recent stressful events and any contact with other cats. Specific tests can be conducted to identify the specific cause, but these are generally reserved for long-term or particularly severe cases or breakouts e.g. in catteries.
Although the clinical signs will often clear up by themselves, much as with human colds and flu viruses, your vet will prescribe treatment as required. Antibiotics may be given to prevent secondary infections from occurring and your vet will also advise you on the best way to manage your cat’s condition in the short and long-term. This will include appropriate hygiene measures including thorough cleaning and disinfection of the home environment.
Vaccination and appropriate hygiene are the best forms of prevention. Routine vaccination from kitten-hood can help to strengthen your cat’s immunity against infection. However, if your cat is already a carrier of one of the strains of virus or has an active infection, then vaccination will not be so effective. Managing stress, keeping your cat healthy and feeding them an appropriate complete and balanced diet are other very important preventative measures in supporting your cat’s immune system and minimising the risk of illness.