Can Your Cat Catch Your Cold? The Surprising Answer

Cats and humans have coexisted for thousands of years. As pet owners, we form close bonds with our feline companions and often worry about their health and wellbeing. A common concern among cat owners is whether our furry friends can catch our colds, spreading illness between species.

Colds are one of the most widespread illnesses, affecting humans frequently throughout the year. The familiar symptoms of a runny nose, cough, sore throat, and congestion are commonly brushed off as minor annoyances. But when our beloved cats start showing similar symptoms, it’s only natural for owners to wonder if they contracted our cold.

The question of whether cats can catch human colds involves uncovering if humans and cats share vulnerabilities to the same pathogens. While our two species have spent millennia in close proximity as hunter and hunted, then as master and pet, there are still biological differences that impact how viruses affect each species.

Understanding the answer involves learning about the nature of colds, how cats and humans differ immunologically, and what precautions can be taken to keep our pets healthy. The close emotional bond shared with our cats makes owners vigilant to any health risks, especially the possibility of humans inadvertently transmitting illness. Exploring this topic provides helpful guidance for concerned cat owners worldwide.

What is a cold?

A cold, also known as an upper respiratory infection, is a mild viral infection of the nose, sinuses, throat and upper airways. It’s caused by a variety of viruses, with rhinoviruses being the most common. Colds are very common, especially in fall and winter. According to the Mayo Clinic (source), adults typically get two to four colds per year and children can get up to 12 colds annually.

The common cold is usually harmless, although the symptoms can make you feel miserable. It’s characterized by a runny nose, congestion, cough, sore throat, sneezing, slight body aches and mild fever. Colds normally last about 1 week, but coughs can linger for up to 3 weeks.

Colds spread easily through virus-laden droplets from coughs and sneezes. You can also pick up a cold by touching surfaces where cold viruses have landed and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth before washing your hands.

Can cats get colds?

a cat with symptoms of an upper respiratory infection

Yes, cats can get upper respiratory infections that are similar to colds in humans. These are often referred to as “cat colds” or “feline upper respiratory infections” (URIs). Cat colds are usually caused by viral or bacterial infections and result in cold-like symptoms affecting a cat’s upper respiratory tract.

According to the South Sacramento Pet Hospital, cat colds are one of the most common respiratory conditions in cats. The viruses or bacteria that cause cat colds are highly contagious and easily transmitted between cats through sneezing, coughing, or direct contact (South Sacramento Pet Hospital).

Cats can catch infections from other cats or contact with contaminated objects or environments. Indoor cats are also susceptible if their owners bring germs inside on their clothes or hands after interacting with an infected cat. URIs tend to be more common in crowded, stressful environments like shelters. But any cat can develop a cold, especially if they have a weaker immune system.

Causes of feline colds

The most common causes of cat colds are viral infections. It is estimated that about 90% are caused by the feline herpesvirus (FHV-1) and feline calicivirus (FCV). These viruses are highly contagious and spread through direct contact, shared food bowls, grooming, and sneezing. The viruses can survive in the environment for several weeks. Stress can also trigger dormant viral infections to reactivate and cause symptoms.

According to PetMD, “The feline herpesvirus targets the nasal passages, sinuses, upper respiratory tract, tongue, eyes, and even the nervous system, while the calicivirus attacks the upper respiratory tract and lungs” (

Other less common viral causes include feline pneumonia, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), feline leukemia virus (FeLV), and feline bordetellosis. Bacterial infections like Chlamydia and Mycoplasma may also contribute to feline upper respiratory infections.


Cats with colds typically experience mild respiratory signs similar to humans with colds. The most common symptoms of a feline cold include:

common symptoms of feline upper respiratory infections

  • Sneezing
  • Nasal congestion and discharge
  • Watery eyes
  • Coughing
  • Slight fever
  • Decreased appetite
  • Lethargy

Cats may also exhibit symptoms like mouth ulcers, conjunctivitis, and swollen lymph nodes depending on the underlying cause of the cold. In most cases, the symptoms are mild and resolve within 7-10 days. However, kittens, senior cats, and cats with weakened immune systems may develop more severe upper respiratory infections from colds that require veterinary treatment.

It’s important for cat owners to monitor their pet closely when they have a cold. Seek prompt veterinary care if symptoms worsen or persist beyond 10 days. Cats with difficulty breathing, severe lethargy, or loss of appetite may have a more serious illness requiring medications or hospitalization.

While sneezing and nasal discharge are the hallmarks of a feline cold, other conditions like allergies, dental disease, and nasal tumors can cause similar signs. So it’s advisable to have a vet examine your cat to differentiate between a simple cold versus other problems.


Veterinarians diagnose cat colds through a physical examination of the cat and by analyzing the symptoms. They will check the cat’s respiratory rate, listen to the lungs with a stethoscope, take the cat’s temperature, and examine the eyes, ears, and nasal passages.

Tests like a nasal swab or culture may be done to check for bacterial infections like bordetella. Imaging tests like x-rays allow vets to look for pneumonia or other secondary infections. Bloodwork can check white blood cell levels for signs of infection.

Vets will also ask about the cat’s vaccination history and potential exposure to contagious viruses. Cats with current vaccinations are less likely to develop severe upper respiratory infections.

According to the experts at South Sacramento Pet Hospital, “Cats with viral infections won’t respond to antibiotics, which only treat secondary bacterial infections. That’s why an accurate diagnosis is so important.” (


Treatment for feline colds focuses on relieving symptoms and keeping the cat comfortable as their immune system fights off the infection. There are some medications that vets may prescribe as well as home care tips to help a cat recover.

For more severe symptoms, vets may prescribe antibiotics like doxycycline to treat secondary bacterial infections that can occur with colds. They may also prescribe decongestants like pseudoephedrine to relieve nasal congestion or antihistamines like diphenhydramine to reduce sneezing and nasal inflammation. Cats with the herpesvirus may be given antiviral medications like famciclovir to control viral replication.

At home, make sure the cat rests and stays warm. Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air and help loosen mucus. Gently clean the nose with a damp cloth to remove discharge. Infants’ saline nose drops can also help loosen mucus. Ensure the cat remains hydrated by feeding wet food or adding broths or water to their meals. Lysine supplements added to their food may help minimize symptoms from herpes infections. With vet guidance, you can also give OTC decongestants, expectorants or antihistamines to provide relief. Keep the litter box clean and give the cat space if they seem lethargic or irritated.

Most cases of cat colds can be managed at home with rest and symptomatic relief. However, contact your vet if symptoms persist beyond 2 weeks or seem to worsen. Cats can deteriorate rapidly when sick, so prompt medical care is key.


There are a few key ways to help prevent your cat from catching a cold:

Get your cat vaccinated. There are vaccines available for some of the major viral causes of feline upper respiratory infections, such as feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus. Vaccination can reduce the severity of symptoms if a cat does get infected. Discuss the vaccination options with your veterinarian. [1]

a cat receiving a vaccine to prevent colds

Reduce exposure to infected cats. Since upper respiratory infections in cats are highly contagious, limiting your cat’s exposure to potentially infected cats can reduce their risk. This may mean keeping them indoors and avoiding contact with outdoor/stray cats. [2]

Keep stress low. Stress can weaken a cat’s immune system and make them more susceptible to infections. Try to minimize stressful events like changes to their environment or introducing new cats. [3]

Practice good hygiene and sanitation. Thoroughly wash and disinfect food bowls, litter boxes, and toys regularly. This helps remove germs that could make your cat sick. [1]

Discuss preventative medication. Your veterinarian may recommend lysine supplements or other medications to help prevent recurrence of respiratory infections in susceptible cats. [1]

Can cats catch human colds?

While humans and cats can pass some illnesses to each other, cats generally cannot catch human colds directly (1). This is because most cold viruses are species-specific, meaning they only infect one type of animal (2). For example, the rhinoviruses that cause the majority of human colds only infect humans and do not survive well in cats.

However, there are a few factors that determine if a cat could get sick from a human cold (3):

  • Some cold viruses like influenza can cross species and possibly infect cats. But this does not happen easily or often.
  • Cats with weakened immune systems may be more susceptible to contracting an illness from humans.
  • Kittens and senior cats are more vulnerable to trans-species infections than healthy adult cats.
  • factors that determine if a cat gets a human illness

  • The closeness of contact is a factor – a cat constantly exposed to a sneezing, coughing human is more at risk than one kept apart.

Overall the chances of human-to-cat cold transmission are very low. But limiting contact when you have a cold is a good precaution for a cat’s health.





In summary, cats can get viral colds that are caused by feline herpesvirus and calicivirus, which can be transmitted through direct contact with infected cats. The main symptoms to look out for are sneezing, discharge from the nose and eyes, loss of appetite, and lethargy. While there is no cure, colds in cats can be treated supportively with fluids, food, and medication to relieve symptoms. The best way to prevent colds is to keep cats up to date on vaccines and limit exposure to infected cats.

While humans and cats can transmit some diseases to each other, there is no evidence that cats can directly catch the common cold from humans. Human colds are caused by different viruses that do not easily cross between species barriers. However, environmental factors and stress from human illness may weaken a cat’s immune system and make them more prone to developing their own unrelated feline colds. Being aware of the differences between human and feline colds, and taking proper care of sick cats, can help prevent the spread of disease between pets and their owners.

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