Cat Flu: Know the Signs

Photo: Missy M.

Flu season:

Flu season is upon us, and it is important to realize that your cat is susceptible too. Cat flu is like a human cold – it can cause a runny nose and eyes, a sore throat, sneezing, fever, and aches and pains. Although cats can be quite ill from the flu, it isn’t usually life-threatening.  If your cat exhibits symptoms of the flu, you should consult your vet.   

Cat flu is usually caused by one of two types of virus, or sometimes by certain types of bacteria. Once infected, cats shed virus particles in nasal and eye discharges and in saliva. Although ill cats are the biggest source of infection, some healthy cats are carriers of the viruses. Carriers do not suffer from the disease, but they can shed virus particles and infect other cats. Particles can survive for up to a week in the environment, so a cat does not even need to meet another to catch the illness. It can easily be spread by contact with infected feed bowls or toys or on people’s contaminated clothing.

Diagnosis of cat flu may be made by taking swabs and looking for the virus but, in most pet cats, this is not necessary as there is no specific treatment. It may be helpful in catteries or if a cat is suffering from one of the long-term complications of infection. 

Flu Symptoms:

Cats and humans experience the flu in very similar ways:

  • Runny nose (clear, yellow or green discharge)
  • Swollen and runny eyes
  • Respiratory problems
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Aches and pains in joints and muscles
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Fever
  • Loss of voice
  • General lethargy
  • Lack of appetite

Flu Prevention:

According to Scott Weese, the Canada research chair in zoonotic diseases and an associate professor at the Ontario Veterinary College, “A cat can catch a cold or flu from you. The virus attaches to cells in the respiratory tract of felines similarly to how it does in humans.” He points to reports of H1N1 found in cats in the United States. Cats also get cat-to-cat viruses that are similar to a cold, but humans can’t catch those. Just like with humans, the best prevention is washing hands and cleaning bowls. If you are sick, be sure to wash your hands before handling your cat. Should your cat develop signs of the flu, help him feel better by regularly cleaning his area (food and water bowls, and where he sleeps) and, in the case of cats, change the litter box often. Allow him to rest and be sure he drinks plenty of water.

So, keep an eye on your cat this flu season and be sure to see your vet should you suspect that your pet has been exposed.

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