Can I Catch My Cat’s Cold? The Surprising Truth About Feline Upper Respiratory Infections

What Are Cat Colds?

Cat colds, also known as feline upper respiratory infections (URI), are illnesses caused by viral or bacterial infections of a cat’s upper respiratory system, including the sinuses, throat, windpipe, and bronchi. Colds in cats are similar to the common cold in humans, but are generally caused by different viruses and bacteria.

The most common symptoms of a cat cold include: 1

  • Sneezing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Reduced appetite
  • Lethargy

Cat colds differ from human colds in that they are more often caused by bacterial infections like Bordetella bronchiseptica and Chlamydophila felis. Human colds are more commonly caused by rhinoviruses. Cats can also develop pneumonia as a complication of a cold, whereas this is less common in humans.

Kittens, unvaccinated cats, outdoor cats, and multi-cat households are most at risk for developing cat colds due to increased exposure to pathogens. While cat colds are usually not serious by themselves, they should be monitored closely by a veterinarian as they can lower a cat’s immunity and lead to more severe secondary infections.

How Cat Colds Spread

Cat colds are highly contagious and can spread through direct contact or even just being in the same environment as an infected cat. The two main types of viruses that cause cat colds are feline herpesvirus (FHV) and feline calicivirus (FCV). FHV causes upper respiratory infections while FCV leads to ulcers and upper respiratory illness.

FHV is spread through direct contact with an infected cat’s nasal secretions, saliva, and eye discharges. It is a very resilient virus that can live a long time outside of the cat’s body in the environment. FCV also spreads through direct contact with secretions but is more short-lived in the environment.

Cat colds frequently spread when a healthy cat comes into contact with a sick cat, such as in multi-cat households, shelters, breeding facilities, and shows. Sharing food bowls, litter boxes, grooming tools, and other objects can also pass viruses between cats. Kittens are especially susceptible as they lack immunity, and mothers can even pass FHV to kittens before birth.

While both viruses cause upper respiratory illness, FHV tends to affect the eyes and nose more while FCV impacts the mouth by causing oral ulcers and drooling. But both can lead to congestion, sneezing, discharge, lethargy, reduced appetite, and fever.

Fortunately, vaccines are available for FHV and FCV. While they may not fully prevent infection, they reduce severity and viral shedding. Proper hygiene and limiting exposure to infected cats is also key to reducing transmission.


Can Cats Catch Colds: Symptoms & Treatment

Can Humans Catch Cat Colds?

Cats and humans have different immune systems that are vulnerable to different viruses. This means that humans cannot catch viruses that only infect cats, like feline herpesvirus or feline calicivirus which cause most cat colds.

However, there are some exceptions. Influenza viruses, like the flu, can sometimes spread between cats and humans. According to the CDC, there have been rare cases of humans contracting an H7N2 avian influenza virus from infected cats at animal shelters. But in general, viruses that make cats sick do not infect humans in the same way.

a person sneezing near a cat

So while human colds and flu can spread from humans to cats, cat-specific viruses like those that cause cat colds cannot spread to humans. A human cannot catch their cat’s upper respiratory infection directly. But humans should still practice good hygiene around sick cats to avoid any rare cross-species influenza infections.

Human Illnesses From Cats

Cats can carry certain infectious organisms and parasites that can transmit diseases to humans. Three of the most notable illnesses that can spread from cats to humans include toxoplasmosis, campylobacteriosis, and salmonellosis.

Toxoplasmosis is caused by a protozoan parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. Cats are the definitive host for T. gondii, meaning the parasite can only sexually reproduce and complete its life cycle in cats. The parasite is shed in cat feces, and humans can become infected by accidentally ingesting contaminated soil, water or food. Pregnant women are at highest risk since toxoplasmosis can cause birth defects. To prevent toxoplasmosis, pregnant women should avoid cleaning litter boxes and wear gloves when gardening. Thoroughly washing hands after touching cats is also important (CDC).

Campylobacteriosis is caused by Campylobacter bacteria that cats may carry in their mouth or feces. In humans it can cause diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever. Salmonellosis is caused by Salmonella bacteria that cats can transmit by contaminated feces. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. To prevent campylobacteriosis and salmonellosis, people should avoid direct contact with cat feces and litter boxes. Thorough hand washing after handling cats is also recommended (Cornell).

Protecting Your Cat From Colds

There are several steps cat owners can take to help prevent their cats from catching colds:

Vaccination is one of the best ways to protect cats against certain upper respiratory infections. There are feline vaccines available for rhinotracheitis virus and calicivirus, two common causes of feline upper respiratory disease. While vaccines don’t provide 100% protection, they can reduce the severity and duration of illness if a cat does become infected. Annual booster vaccines are recommended to maintain optimal immunity.

Limiting exposure to infected cats can reduce risk of catching an upper respiratory infection. This means keeping cats indoors and avoiding contact with outdoor/stray cats of unknown health status. For households with multiple cats, isolating any cats showing signs of illness right away. Additionally, adopting new cats from shelters into the home cautiously, as shelter cats have heightened exposure.

Reducing stress supports a cat’s immune defenses against infection. Providing a consistent daily routine, a quiet space for alone time, affection, exercise through play, and a species-appropriate diet are some ways to minimize unnecessary stress for a cat.

While total prevention of cat colds is difficult, taking reasonable precautions can significantly lower risks. Consult with your veterinarian to create the most effective prevention plan for your cat’s lifestyle and environment.


Treating a Cat With a Cold

If your cat has a cold, the main treatments focus on making them comfortable and supporting their immune system to fight off the infection. Here are some tips for caring for a cat with a cold at home:

Rest – Let your cat rest and conserve their energy by keeping them comfortably confined to one room in the house. Cats need rest to recover.

Fluids – Make sure your cat is drinking enough fluids. Offer extra water, low-sodium chicken broth, or kitten milk. Dehydration can occur with respiratory infections.1

a cat drinking chicken broth from a bowl

Food – Feed small, frequent meals of their usual food to keep up calorie intake. A sick cat often has a reduced appetite.

Medications – Your vet may prescribe antibiotics, decongestants, or anti-inflammatory medication. Give all medications as directed.

See the vet if symptoms worsen or persist more than 7-10 days. Cats can decline quickly. Vets can provide exam, testing, fluids, and medication to treat secondary infections and support recovery.

With supportive home care and vet care as needed, most cat colds resolve within 7-14 days. Call the vet if you have any concerns about your cat’s condition.

Caring For a Cat With a Cold

If your cat has a cold, it’s important to care for them properly while they recover. This includes isolating them from other pets, disinfecting shared surfaces, and practicing good hygiene.

Isolate the sick cat in a separate room away from other pets. Cats with colds should be quarantined to prevent spreading the infection. Provide food, water, litter box, toys, and a comfortable place to rest in the isolation room.

Disinfect any shared bowls, toys, beds, litter boxes, etc. to kill germs. Use a pet-safe disinfectant and follow label instructions closely. Focus on high-touch areas like food bowls.

Wash hands before and after contact with the sick cat. Proper handwashing helps prevent human transmission. Use warm water and soap, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds.[1]

a person washing their hands thoroughly with soap

Monitor the cat for worsening symptoms and contact the vet if needed. Check temperature, watch for appetite/energy loss. Inform the vet of any major changes.

Make the cat comfortable. Offer extra affection, soft beds, and interactive toys. Avoid over-handling sick cats as it may stress them.

When to See a Vet

Most cat colds are mild and will resolve on their own within 1-2 weeks. However, you should contact your veterinarian if you notice any warning signs that indicate a more serious illness, especially in vulnerable cats like kittens, senior cats, or cats with compromised immune systems.

Signs that warrant a veterinary visit include:

  • Difficulty breathing or labored breathing
  • Persistent lack of appetite or not eating for more than 1-2 days
  • Lethargy, weakness, or inability to move normally
  • Eye discharge or conjunctivitis, especially if the eyes are swollen shut
  • Nasal discharge that lasts more than 7-10 days or changes color
  • Sneezing that persists more than 2 weeks
  • Fever higher than 103F
  • Dehydration – dry gums, weakness, lethargy

Kittens with cold symptoms should always be evaluated by a vet promptly, as they can become dehydrated or malnourished quickly. Kittens’ immune systems are still developing, making them more prone to secondary infections.

Senior cats and cats with conditions like FIV, feline leukemia, diabetes, or heart disease are also at higher risk for complications from cat colds. Don’t hesitate to contact your vet if a vulnerable cat shows cold symptoms beyond a few days.

While most cat colds are not serious, it’s important to monitor symptoms and watch for any signs of worsening illness. When in doubt, check with your vet – better safe than sorry.

Preventing Human Illness

There are several ways to minimize the risk of contracting an illness from your cat:

Practice good hygiene and wash your hands frequently when handling your cat, cleaning the litter box, or after being licked or scratched. The CDC recommends washing hands with soap and running water for at least 20 seconds (CDC). Antibacterial soap is ideal.

Wear gloves when scooping litter boxes and be sure to wash your hands afterwards. Changing litter boxes daily can also reduce germs (Cornell).

Keep cats indoors and do not allow them to hunt prey outdoors, as this can expose them to diseases. Regular veterinary checkups and vaccines can also protect cat health.

Properly disinfect any cat scratches or bites on your skin to prevent infection. See a doctor for any concerning wounds.

Avoid touching your face after interacting with your cat before washing up. Do not let cats lick open wounds or near your mouth.

Pregnant women, infants, young children, elderly, and immunocompromised individuals may be at higher risk for contracting an illness and should take extra precautions.

Colds in Multi-Cat Households

When cats live together in multi-cat households, respiratory infections can spread easily between cats. It’s important to isolate sick cats from healthy cats to prevent the spread of infection. Sick cats should be separated in a different room with their own food, water, and litter box. Limit contact between sick and healthy cats.

Disinfect food and water bowls, litter boxes, and any other surfaces the sick cat touches with a dilute bleach solution to kill germs. Use separate food, water, litter box, toys, and bedding for the sick cat. Wash your hands after touching the sick cat to avoid spreading germs.

two cats eating separately in different rooms

Vaccinating all cats in the home against common upper respiratory viruses like feline herpesvirus and calicivirus can help prevent infection. But vaccines don’t always provide complete immunity, so isolation and disinfection are still important. Consult your veterinarian if multiple cats develop upper respiratory infections for advice on treatment and prevention.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top