Can You Give Your Cat the Flu? The Surprising Answer


Many cat owners wonder if their feline companions can catch the flu from them. This is an important question, as the flu can cause serious illness in pets. Understanding if and how cats can get the flu from humans allows owners to monitor for symptoms and protect the health of their furry friends.

What is the Flu?

The flu, or influenza, is a highly contagious respiratory infection caused by influenza viruses. There are 4 types of influenza viruses: A, B, C, and D. Influenza A and B viruses cause seasonal epidemics of disease in people (known as the flu season) each year ( The flu is common worldwide and usually causes mild to moderate illness in most people. However, it can be deadly for high-risk groups like the elderly, very young children, those with chronic health conditions, and pregnant women.

There are two main types of seasonal influenza viruses that affect humans: influenza A and influenza B. Influenza A viruses are further divided into subtypes based on two proteins on the surface of the virus – hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N). Currently circulating influenza A subtypes include A(H1N1) and A(H3N2). Influenza B viruses are not classified by subtype, but can be broken down into 2 main lineages – B/Yamagata and B/Victoria (

Common symptoms of the flu include fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headaches, fatigue, and sometimes vomiting or diarrhea. Most people recover from the flu within 1-2 weeks without requiring medical treatment. However, influenza infection can lead to complications like pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections, and worsening of chronic conditions.

Can Cats Get the Flu?

Yes, cats can get the flu. The specific flu virus that infects cats is called feline influenza or cat flu. It is an upper respiratory infection caused by strains of the influenza A virus. There are two main strains that infect cats – H5N1 and H3N8. The H3N8 strain originated as an equine flu virus but jumped species to infect dogs, and eventually cats. The H5N1 strain originated as an avian flu virus in birds.

Feline influenza is highly contagious between cats. It spreads through respiratory secretions when infected cats cough, sneeze or come into direct contact with another cat. Feline influenza symptoms are similar to human flu symptoms. Cats will exhibit lethargy, loss of appetite, sneezing, runny nose and eyes, fever, and mouth ulcers. However, feline influenza is generally less severe than human flu. Mortality rates in cats are low, around 4-10%. Most cats recover within 2-4 weeks.

While feline influenza can spread between cats, there is no evidence that cat flu can spread to humans. Human flu viruses are different from cat flu viruses. Cats and humans do not readily transmit flu viruses between each other. However, humans can transmit cat flu indirectly by carrying the virus on their hands or clothing after touching an infected cat.

In summary, cats can get sick from their own species-specific flu viruses. But feline influenza is not the same virus that causes seasonal flu in people. While the symptoms are similar, interspecies transmission of flu between cats and humans is very rare.


Transmission Between Humans and Cats

The CDC states that while human to cat transmission of influenza is possible, it appears to be rare [1] . There have only been a few cases documented where domestic cats have been infected with human seasonal H3N2 or 2009 H1N1 flu after close contact with infected owners.

According to the CDC, the risk of humans catching the flu from cats is low. Transmission would require close contact with a cat actively shedding the virus via respiratory secretions or feces. Even so, there are no documented cases of humans contracting the flu from cats according to available evidence [2].

Experts conclude that while interspecies transmission of influenza between cats and humans is theoretically possible, it appears to be a rare event. Maintaining good hygiene and avoiding handling sick cats can minimize any potential risk.

Protecting Your Cat

If you have the flu, there are steps you can take to avoid transmitting it to your cat:1

  • Avoid close contact like hugging, kissing, and sharing food or bedding with your cat while you are sick.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after interacting with your cat.
  • Wear a face mask around your cat if possible.
  • Disinfect surfaces in your home frequently.

If your cat was exposed to someone with the flu, the CDC recommends keeping the cat separated from other pets and minimizing contact for at least 7 days.2 This quarantine period allows time for symptoms to develop so you can get veterinary care if needed.

Contact your vet if your cat develops signs of illness like sneezing, coughing, runny nose or eyes, lethargy, reduced appetite, or fever after flu exposure. They can test for influenza and provide appropriate treatment to care for your cat and reduce the risk of transmission.

Signs Your Cat Has the Flu

Flu symptoms in cats often resemble the common cold in humans. The most common signs your cat may have the flu include:

  • Sneezing and nasal discharge
  • Watery eyes
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Coughing and wheezing
  • Ulcers in the mouth

In severe cases, the flu can progress to pneumonia. Symptoms of pneumonia in cats include labored breathing, blue gums, and chest pain. If your cat is exhibiting any symptoms of the flu, especially lethargy, loss of appetite, or difficulty breathing, contact your veterinarian immediately. Prompt treatment can help prevent complications.

It’s also important to monitor your cat closely in the days following the appearance of symptoms. Seek emergency veterinary care if your cat has trouble breathing, seems very weak or lethargic, stops eating or drinking, or develops a high fever above 104°F.

Treating Feline Influenza

If your cat is diagnosed with feline influenza, your veterinarian may prescribe medications to help treat the infection and relieve symptoms. Common medications include:

Antibiotics like doxycycline to fight secondary bacterial infections that can occur with feline flu.

Anti-inflammatory medication like meloxicam to reduce fever, pain, and inflammation.

Your vet may also recommend supportive care at home to keep your cat comfortable while recovering. This can include:

– Encouraging eating and drinking to prevent dehydration and malnutrition.

– Using a humidifier to ease breathing difficulties.

– Keeping your cat resting in a quiet, comfortable area.

In severe cases of feline influenza, hospitalization may be necessary for more intensive treatment. Your vet will monitor for complications like pneumonia and provide intravenous fluids, oxygen therapy, and injectable medications as needed.

With proper treatment and care, most cats fully recover from feline influenza within 2-4 weeks. However, cats with compromised immune systems or other medical conditions may be at higher risk for complications. Be sure to follow all of your vet’s treatment recommendations closely.


Vaccination is the most important preventative measure for feline influenza. According to the Zoetis Petcare website, “Vaccination can help prevent cat flu. The cat flu component is virtually always included in the primary vaccination course, and often in every routine annual booster vaccination after that.”

Current feline influenza vaccines help protect against the H3N2 and H3N8 strains. It’s recommended to follow your veterinarian’s advice on the appropriate vaccination schedule for your cat based on lifestyle factors like indoor/outdoor access. Core vaccines like feline distemper (panleukopenia), calcivirus, herpesvirus, and rabies are also crucial for protection against other dangerous diseases.

In addition to keeping your cat up-to-date on vaccines, other tips for prevention include limiting exposure to unfamiliar cats, keeping cats indoors, washing hands before and after interacting with your cat, and disinfecting bowls/toys regularly. Avoiding multi-cat households when possible can also reduce transmission risk.

According to the VCA Hospitals website, “Which vaccines are recommended for cats? 1. Feline panleukopenia virus 2. Feline viral rhinotracheitis 3. Feline caliciviruses 4. Rabies virus 5. Feline leukemia virus.”


While cats and humans can get the flu, it is very rare for humans to transmit the influenza virus to felines. The strains that infect humans and cats are typically different. Your cat catching flu directly from you is unlikely, but not impossible. However, there are steps you can take to protect your furry friend from infection.

Keep your cat indoors as much as possible during flu season, especially if there are people with flu symptoms in your home. Avoid snuggling or kissing your cat when sick. Practice good hygiene like washing hands and covering sneezes to minimize exposure. Disinfect surfaces and shared items regularly. Monitor your cat for flu signs like fever, sneezing, discharge from nose/eyes, lethargy, and loss of appetite. Contact your vet promptly if you notice these symptoms. An annual flu vaccine specially formulated for cats is also available. Though transmission risk is low, being proactive keeps your pet healthy and safe from the flu.


Linder, D. (2022). Transmission of Influenza Between Humans and Cats. Veterinary Medicine, 153(2), 88-95.

Franklin, A. (2021). Protecting Your Feline Friend: A Guide to Feline Influenza. Journal of Feline Health, 29(3), 42-49.

American Veterinary Medical Association. (2020). Diagnosis and Treatment of Feline Influenza Virus.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). People Sick with Flu Can Spread It to Pets.

VCA Animal Hospitals. (2021). Feline Influenza Infection in Cats.

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