Cat Flu Recovery. Can Kitties Heal on Their Own?

Table of Contents

What is cat flu?

Cat flu is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by two viruses – feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus (Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Veterinary Centers of America). It is very common in cats and spreads easily through direct contact or airborne transmission.

The most common symptoms of cat flu include sneezing, coughing, fever, runny eyes and nose, eye inflammation, mouth ulcers and lethargy. It can range from mild to severe depending on the strain of virus, the cat’s immunity, stress levels, and other factors (Feline Calicivirus, Cornell University).

How do cats get infected?

Cats most commonly get infected with cat flu through airborne transmission when in close contact with other cats who are actively shedding the virus. Infected cats spread the flu by sneezing, coughing, and even breathing in shared air space. The viral particles can spread up to 7 feet and remain infectious in the environment for 24-48 hours (1).

Cat flu can also spread through shared objects like food bowls, water bowls, litter boxes, and toys. The virus contaminates these objects when infected cats sneeze or cough on them. Other cats who then share these items are exposed and may become infected (2).

Additionally, when new cats enter a home or shelter where cat flu is present, they are extremely susceptible if not already immune. The stress of a new environment combined with exposure to the virus circulating among the resident cats often leads to infection and outbreaks, especially in overcrowded shelters (2).



Is there a cure for cat flu?

Unfortunately, there is no direct cure for cat flu itself. Treatment is focused on relieving symptoms and preventing secondary complications from arising.

Antibiotics may be prescribed by a veterinarian to treat secondary bacterial infections that can occur as a result of cat flu. According to the Blue Cross, “Antibiotics can help if there is a secondary bacterial infection.” However, antibiotics do not treat the underlying viral infection.

Antiviral medications may provide some benefit in reducing symptoms and duration of illness. As Purina notes, “Antiviral medication may be prescribed to try to reduce symptoms, but studies on their effectiveness have had mixed results.” However, there is no antiviral that can completely eliminate the cat flu virus.

While supportive care and medication can help manage complications, the cat’s own immune system must fight off the primary viral infection. As Trudell Animal Health states, “If your cat has a primary or secondary bacterial infection, your vet will prescribe antibiotics to help clear it up. The goal of treatment is to relieve symptoms and limit complications while your cat’s immune system fights the virus.”

Can cat flu resolve on its own?

In mild cases, cat flu symptoms may resolve within 1-2 weeks without treatment (1). However, some cats continue to experience lingering effects from the infection, like chronic sneezing and eye discharge, even after other symptoms go away (2).

The viruses that cause cat flu, feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus, can’t be cured and remain dormant in a cat’s body long after they recover from an active infection (3). Stress or other illnesses may reactivate the viruses, leading to recurrent bouts of cat flu throughout a cat’s lifetime.

So while many cats do seemingly recover on their own from mild cases of cat flu, the viruses remain present and may continue to cause intermittent symptoms. More severe cases require veterinary treatment to prevent complications and relieve discomfort.

Best practices for recovery

If your cat has come down with cat flu, the best thing you can do is isolate them from other pets to prevent spreading the infection. Set up the sick cat in a comfortable, quiet room away from the rest of your cats.

Be sure to disinfect any surfaces the cat has come into contact with to kill lingering viral particles. Use a dilute bleach solution or a pet-safe disinfectant and wash bedding, food bowls, litter boxes, and toys thoroughly.

Nutritional support is very important for recovery. Feed a high-quality wet food to encourage eating and stay hydrated. You can also syringe feed broths, nutritional gels, or baby food to get calories into a cat who has lost their appetite.

Encourage fluid intake by offering fresh water, low-sodium chicken broth, or dilute electrolyte solutions frequently. The moisture can help loosen mucus secretions.

Try steam therapy to help clear nasal congestion and make breathing easier. Run a hot shower generating steam or hold the cat in the bathroom while you run the hot water. Be careful not to scald your cat.

Talk to your vet about providing supplements like lysine, vitamins, or probiotics which may support immune function during recovery.

Potential Complications

Cat flu can lead to some serious complications if left untreated. The most common potential complications include:


Pneumonia is one of the most serious complications of cat flu, especially in kittens. The flu virus can spread to the lungs, causing inflammation and fluid buildup that makes breathing difficult. Pneumonia can be life-threatening if not treated promptly with antibiotics, oxygen therapy, and other supportive care (Source).

Permanent Eye/Nose Damage

The flu virus can cause corneal ulcers in a cat’s eyes as well as sinus infections. If left untreated, these can lead to permanent damage and scarring. Cats may lose their sight or sense of smell due to the damage (Source).

Poor Growth (Kittens)

Kittens with cat flu often have decreased appetite and low energy levels. This can impair their growth and development. Kittens who survive cat flu may fail to thrive and remain undersized even after recovering from the acute illness (Source).

When to see a vet

There are certain signs and symptoms that indicate cat flu may be severe or not improving on its own. In these cases, it’s important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible. These signs include:

– Severe lethargy, appetite loss, dehydration: Cats with a severe case of cat flu often become extremely lethargic and lose interest in food and water. This can lead to dehydration which is dangerous for cats. If your cat seems unusually inactive and uninterested in eating or drinking for more than a day or two, take them to the vet.

– Breathing difficulties: Respiratory infections from cat flu can make it hard for a cat to breathe. You may notice heavy breathing, wheezing, coughing, or raspy purring. Difficulty breathing is a medical emergency so seek immediate vet care.

– No improvement after 1-2 weeks: While mild cases of cat flu may resolve on their own within 1-2 weeks, a lingering infection likely needs medical treatment. If your cat still has nasal discharge, congestion, eye discharge or other symptoms after a couple weeks, have them examined.

Seeing the vet promptly when a cat has severe symptoms allows tests to determine the severity of infection and get them on the appropriate antiviral medications, antibiotics or other treatments they need to recover. Never wait it out if your cat seems very sick from cat flu.


There are several ways to help prevent cat flu in cats:

Vaccination is recommended for kittens to help protect them from infection. Kittens should receive a series of vaccinations starting as early as 6-8 weeks old and boosters may be needed until 16-20 weeks old, according to veterinary guidelines [1].

Limiting exposure to infected cats can reduce transmission. Keeping cats indoors and avoiding contact with strays or cats from multiple-cat households can help [2].

Reducing stress through environmental enrichment, routine, and minimizing change can strengthen the immune system. Stress is known to increase susceptibility to illness [3].

Providing good nutrition with a balanced diet supports immune function. Talk to your vet about nutritional recommendations for your cat [1].


The prognosis for cats with feline influenza is generally good with proper supportive care. According to research, the fatality rate is <1% for most infections ( While fatal cases are rare, kittens and senior cats tend to be at higher risk for complications from the flu ( With medications to reduce fever and fluids to prevent dehydration, most cats can overcome flu symptoms within 2-4 weeks.

Rarely, secondary bacterial infections can develop and lead to pneumonia. In these cases, antibiotics may be necessary. But the vast majority of cats make a full recovery with proper care.

Key Takeaways

Cat flu is a common upper respiratory infection in cats that usually resolves within 1-2 weeks with proper care and management at home. Here are some key takeaways for recovery and prevention:

Cat flu usually resolves in 1-2 weeks with care – With rest, good nutrition, hydration, and keeping stress low, most cats can overcome mild cat flu on their own within a week or two.

Prevent spread by isolation, disinfection – Isolate infected cats, disinfect shared items like food bowls, and wash hands after contact to prevent the infection from spreading.

Vaccination, nutrition, stress reduction – Vaccinating your cat annually, feeding a high-quality diet, and minimizing stressors can help prevent cat flu infections. Reduce exposure to other infected cats.

While most cases are mild, contact your vet if symptoms persist beyond 2 weeks or you notice signs of secondary bacterial infection. With care and prevention at home, cats have a good prognosis for recovering from cat flu.

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