Your Cat Has the Sniffles? How to Treat Kitty’s Flu Symptoms

Recognizing Feline Influenza

Feline influenza is an upper respiratory viral infection that is highly contagious among cats. The most common symptoms of feline influenza include:

  • Sneezing
  • Nasal discharge
  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite

Feline influenza is transmitted through direct contact, droplets in the air from sneezing and coughing, or contact with contaminated surfaces. It’s estimated that up to 2-10% of healthy cats with outdoor access may be infected with feline influenza virus (Cat Flu: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention). The prevalence is much lower for indoor cats. Kittens, senior cats, and cats with compromised immune systems are most vulnerable to developing feline influenza.

When to See the Vet

It’s important to contact your veterinarian as soon as you notice signs of feline influenza in your cat. The sooner treatment begins, the better the chances for a quick recovery. According to the Blue Cross, you should take your cat to the vet immediately if they have breathing difficulties, seem very weak or lethargic, go off their food, or have a high fever above 104°F.

Some warning signs that indicate your cat may have a more severe illness requiring urgent veterinary care include: labored breathing, wheezing, pale or bluish gums, severe congestion, bloody nasal discharge, not eating or drinking, vomiting, and diarrhea, according to WebMD. Your vet can assess the severity and determine if hospitalization is needed for more intensive treatment.

For mild cases, the Blue Cross recommends taking your cat to the vet within the first 2 days of noticing symptoms. Catching feline flu early on can help shorten recovery time and prevent complications. Waiting longer than 3 days puts your cat at greater risk.

Diagnosing Feline Flu

If your cat is showing signs of upper respiratory infection like sneezing, discharge from the nose or eyes, coughing, fever, or lethargy, it’s important to take them to the vet for an examination. The vet will check for symptoms and ask about the cat’s vaccination history and any potential exposure to sick cats. There are a few tests the vet may conduct to reach a diagnosis:

Physical examination – The vet will thoroughly examine the cat’s head, neck, mouth and throat looking for signs of infection. They will check the color of the gums and make sure the cat is not dehydrated. The vet will also feel for enlarged lymph nodes which can indicate infection.

Nasal swab – Taking a sample from the nasal cavity or throat with a cotton swab can be used to identify the specific virus causing the infection, such as feline herpesvirus or calicivirus. This helps determine the best treatment method.[1]

Blood tests – A blood sample may be analyzed to see if the cat is mounting an immune response and to check for other issues like anemia. Bloodwork provides important information about the cat’s overall health.

Imaging – X-rays or ultrasound can allow visualization of the throat, nasal passages and chest for signs of inflammation or secondary infections like pneumonia.

While most cases of feline influenza are diagnosed based on clinical signs, confirming the particular virus can guide treatment recommendations. In mild cases of cat flu, extensive testing may not be performed unless complications develop.

Treating Mild Cases at Home

For mild cases of feline influenza that do not require immediate veterinary intervention, there are steps you can take at home to help your cat recover:

Rest is very important, so provide a quiet, comfortable place for your cat to sleep undisturbed. Reduce stress by limiting their contact with other household pets during this time.

Make sure your cat stays well-hydrated by providing easy access to fresh, clean water at all times. Consider adding some tasty broth or tuna juice to their water to encourage drinking. You can also supplement their fluid intake with nutritional gel packs.

Feed small, frequent meals of your cat’s usual food to keep their strength up. Warming up wet food to bring out the aroma can make it more appealing. Avoid dairy products.

Use saline nose drops and gentle cleaning with cotton balls to keep your cat’s nose and eyes free of discharge. This promotes breathing and eye comfort. Warm, humid air can also help open congested airways.

Make sure your cat is able to comfortably rest in their preferred sleeping area. Providing soft bedding and warmth can soothe body aches.

Medical Treatments from the Vet

If your cat has severe symptoms or complicating secondary issues, your vet may administer more intensive medical treatments. Common medications and therapies used for feline influenza include:

Antiviral medications like oseltamivir or amantadine may be prescribed if started very early in the infection. These can help shorten the duration and reduce the severity of symptoms 1.

Antibiotics like doxycycline or amoxicillin fight secondary bacterial infections that often occur as a result of the feline flu weakening the immune system. Controlling secondary infections helps resolve pneumonia or sinus issues 2.

IV fluid therapy provides hydration and electrolyte support for cats who are dehydrated from fever, respiratory distress, or lack of eating and drinking.

Nebulization delivers moisture and medication via mist to soothe inflamed airways and make breathing easier.

Oxygen therapy assists cats with severe respiratory difficulty and low oxygen levels.

Hospitalization in severe cases allows for round-the-clock care and observation in case complications develop.

Preventing Spread

To prevent the spread of feline influenza, it’s important to isolate sick cats from healthy cats. Sick cats should be confined to one room in the home and use separate litter boxes, food bowls, and bedding. Caregivers should wash hands thoroughly after interacting with the sick cat.

Disinfectants can help kill the flu virus and prevent it from spreading in the home. The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends using disinfectants effective against rhinoviruses, the viruses that cause the common cold in humans. These disinfectants include chlorhexidine, benzalkonium chloride, and hydrogen peroxide products (AVMA).

Cat owners should disinfect surfaces the sick cat has touched, including countertops, doorknobs, and litter boxes. Use separate cleaning supplies for the sick cat’s items to avoid spreading the virus. Wash the cat’s bedding and towels regularly in hot water and soap.

Caring for a Cat with Flu

Caring for a cat with feline influenza requires close monitoring of symptoms, helping the cat stay comfortable, and assisting with grooming and litter needs. It’s important to keep a close eye on your cat’s symptoms and alert the vet if they seem to be getting worse. Offer soft, easy-to-eat food and make sure your cat has easy access to fresh water to stay hydrated.

Sick cats often stop grooming, so you may need to gently wipe your cat’s face with a warm, damp cloth to clear away any nasal discharge around their eyes and nose. Be very gentle, as their face will be sore. It can also help to use unscented pet wipes to keep their coat clean if they stop grooming.

Your cat may have difficulty smelling its litter, so place them in the box regularly to remind them. Scoop the litter box more frequently, as sick cats tend to make more of a mess. Disinfect the litter box daily to avoid spreading infection.

Let your cat rest and keep them isolated from other pets during their illness. Provide a quiet, comfortable area with soft bedding to make them feel secure. Cats with the flu need lots of rest and care, so be patient with nursing them back to health.

Recognizing Complications

Although most cats recover fully from feline influenza, some cats may develop severe complications from the virus. Persistent high fever and breathing difficulties are two of the major complications to watch for.

Cats with feline flu usually develop a fever between 103-106°F. If the fever persists beyond 4-5 days and does not respond to medications, this is a sign of a complication. Left untreated, persistent high fevers can lead to dehydration, seizures, and organ damage [1].

Breathing problems like labored breathing, wheezing, and coughing can also signal complications. The flu virus can progress to pneumonia or cause inflammation in the throat and airways. Cats showing signs of respiratory distress should be brought to the vet immediately, as they may need oxygen therapy or other aggressive treatments [2].

Other potential complications include dehydration, eye infections, loss of appetite leading to malnutrition, and secondary bacterial infections. Cats with diabetes, heart disease, or a weakened immune system are at higher risk for complications. Prompt veterinary care can help manage any issues that develop.

Recovering from Feline Influenza

Recovery time for feline influenza can vary depending on the severity of the infection. In mild cases, cats may recover within 5-10 days with supportive care at home [1]. More severe infections lasting up to 6 weeks are possible, especially if secondary bacterial infections develop [1].

As your cat recovers, their appetite and activity levels should gradually return to normal. Nasal discharge and eye inflammation should also decrease. You can help speed recovery by ensuring your cat remains hydrated and gets adequate rest.

Once symptoms fully resolve, follow your veterinarian’s advice on returning to normal routines. It’s important not to expose recovering cats to other pets too soon, as they can remain contagious for weeks after apparent recovery. Some cats may require prolonged isolation or medication after symptoms disappear.

While most cats fully recover from feline influenza, some may experience lingering effects like reduced sense of smell or increased sensitivity to respiratory irritants. Follow up with your vet if your cat has any persistent issues after the infection clears.

Protecting Other Cats

To prevent the spread of feline influenza, it’s important to protect any other cats in your home or those that your cat may come into contact with. Vaccination is the best way to protect against feline influenza. There are vaccines available that protect against the H3N2 and H3N8 strains of the virus (Blue Cross). Kittens can receive their first vaccine as early as 8 weeks old, with a booster 3-4 weeks later. Adult cats should receive an annual vaccine. While the vaccine may not fully prevent infection, it can reduce the severity and duration of symptoms.

In addition to vaccination, limiting your cat’s exposure can help prevent the spread of influenza. Keep cats with flu symptoms isolated from other household cats as much as possible. Thoroughly wash hands, bowls, toys, and other items after handling the sick cat. Disinfect surfaces the cat has been in contact with. Avoid contact with neighborhood or stray cats who could potentially spread the virus. Keep cats indoors as much as possible during flu season. With vigilance and proper precautions, cat owners can help protect feline health.

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