Is it Cat Flu?
Have you ever wondered if your cat’s sneezing was normal or whether they are becoming sick with a common cat disease? As a one-off occurrence yes, but repeated sneezing especially in combination with the symptoms mentioned below could be a sign of a condition called cat flu.
Cat flu is similar to a flu infection in people. Most cats will at some point encounter the viruses responsible for causing flu-like symptoms. Cat flu can be mild or severe, but there are ways we can help bring relief to our feline friends and make them more comfortable.
The cat flu can be caused by a few different types of viruses, namely herpes virus, and calicivirus. When an infection is severe, there can also be a secondary bacterial infection making your cat feel worse. The viruses that cause cat flu are highly transmissible between cats. So, cats can become infected easily, even after a small window of exposure to an infected cat. Cat flu viruses can be picked up in the environment from contact with viral material found on toys, bedding, or food bowls.
Are all cats susceptible to cat flu?
Cat flu is a viral disease. This means that younger, unvaccinated, or rescue kittens and older, or immune-compromised cats are more likely to get cat flu. These groups of cats have weaker immune systems and struggle to fight off the virus. While most common in kittens, any age, breed, and sex of a cat can be affected.
Cats who have been vaccinated for herpes and calicivirus can still get clinical signs of cat flu, but often a much milder form of the illness.
Cat flu can be diagnosed by a veterinarian based on an exam and the history of symptoms. Symptoms of cat flu can be mild or more pronounced, and include:
- Clear discharge from one or both nostrils
- Watery tears or clear discharge around the eyes
- Reduced energy levels
- Sleeping more than normal
If the cat flu infection is more severe and secondary bacterial infection is present, other signs you may notice are:
- Decreased appetite
- Green or yellow discharge at the nose
- Green or yellow discharge around the eyes
- Sneezing or coughing
- Weight loss
Many cats find travelling to a veterinary clinic to be stressful, both the car ride and the experience of being in a veterinary clinic. If you are concerned about your cat’s stress level when they are already feeling sick, consider making a sick pet visit with a mobile veterinarian. A mobile vet will come to your home to examine your pet and can recommend treatment and medication at the same time, eliminating the need to leave home.
Treatment of cat flu
Treatment of cat flu depends on how sick your cat is. If your cat has a fever, anti-inflammatories may be prescribed. Cat flu can be treated with anti-viral medication. For cats who have a secondary bacterial infection, antibiotics can help relieve symptoms. Cats or kittens with eye infections may be given eye drops for you to give daily.
While medications play an important part in treatment, particularly if your cat has severe signs, in-home care can be just as important in the treatment of this disease. Some ways you can help alleviate cat flu symptoms are:
- Clean away discharge from the corners of the eyes and from the nostrils with a warm damp cloth two times a day. It is easier to do this if they are distracted by a treat or some wet food.
- Steam can help soothe the airways and moisten secretions, making it easier for cats to get rid of mucus blocking airways. Put your cat in a steamed-up room (for example after someone has used the shower) and allow them to breathe the steamy air for ten minutes. This can be repeated up to three times a day.
- Cats who are not feeling well have a reduced appetite. Tempt your cat to eat by using their sense of smell. Offer smelly foods such as tuna or salmon, or try gently warming wet food to increase palatability. Sit with your cat while they eat and offer praise and pats to encourage them to eat more.
- Grooming needs are often low on the list for an unwell cat. Five minutes of gentle brushing can make your cat feel better and is a wonderful bonding activity.
- Keep your cat indoors so they can rest up and fight the infection.
Survival Rates for Cat Flu
The outcomes for cat flu treatment are usually excellent. Healing time can take between 2-6 weeks depending on how sick your cat is, but most cats make a full recovery from the infection. Unfortunately, some cats with severe symptoms may have permanent blindness from eye ulceration and need to have an enucleation to remove the non-visual eye.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is cat flu contagious to people?
No, cat flu is not contagious to people or dogs. It is however contagious to other cats so good hygiene and separation of cats are needed if one of your cats has cat flu.
Can cat flu be prevented?
The standard cat vaccines are helpful in preventing or reducing the severity of cat flu. However, just like with the flu shot in people, our cats can still become sick even after being vaccinated, but the hope is that their symptoms will be milder.
Can my cat get cat flu more than once?
Yes, viruses like the herpes virus remain dormant and can resurface if your cat becomes stressed or ill from another condition.
Do cats survive cat flu?
Cat flu is a very treatable condition. The prognosis for recovery is excellent with good nursing care, and sometimes medications prescribed by your veterinarian.
Cat flu is a common, but treatable condition frequently seen in young kittens and stray cats. The severity of signs and length of illness varies but some good old-fashioned TLC can make a huge difference to how your cat feels during the course of their illness. If you are unsure if your cat needs extra medications to bring relief to symptoms, talk to one of our BetterVet team today for guidance.