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Can Cats Get Colds? (2023) What all Owners Need to Know

Have you heard your cat sneezing? When you’ve looked at them, did they seem a little off? Watery eyes? A little sorry for themselves? Maybe you even imagined a runny nose? If your cat were human, you’d swear it had a cold. Can cats get colds?

It may not be the same kind of cold we get as humans, but cats do suffer some form of the common cold nonetheless. Like the human cold, a cat cold or upper respiratory infection (URI) can be a simple, mild affair. It could also be a bit more severe and turn serious in some rare cases.

URIs infect cats in much the same way as they do humans – they can even cause depression-like behavior. They also produce some similar physical symptoms. Let’s take a closer look.

bengal cat at vet with ice pack can cats get a cold


Can Cats Get Colds? 3 FAQs

As it happens, yes, they can, and from much the exact cause as humans do. Colds are caused by viruses or bacteria. In particular, a viral infection can be distributed through the air. In cats, such an infection is commonly referred to as feline upper respiratory infection.

The infection manifests symptoms like a runny nose and sneezing.

1. Can All Cats Get A Cold?

All cats can get a cold, but cats who roam about outdoors are more likely to come into contact with errant virus droplets. The viruses that cause URIs are usually transmitted through the air, from sneezes and other particles from infected cats.

Naturally, this means that cats who regularly come into contact with other cats are also more susceptible than those who stay indoors without outside contact.

Cats who have had vaccinations and regular shots are also far less likely to contract URIs – though it does occasionally occur, even if symptoms are less severe.

silver cat with vet

2. Can Cats Get Colds From Humans?

A cat may catch a virus from human contact. But don’t worry. The viruses that cause colds in humans and cats are quite different. A virus that thrives in a human can’t usually survive in a cat’s system. A viral cold is therefore not easily transferrable between humans and cats.

The most common viruses that cause colds are:

  • Rhinovirus
  • Coronavirus
  • Respiratory syncytial virus
  • Parainfluenza virus

Some bacteria can transfer between cats and humans, though this is very unusual. Even so, the chances of one manifesting a cold from contact with another are quite low.

The bottom line is that a cat may indeed catch your virus, but it’s very unlikely to cause a severe infection or cold. Exotic cats seem to be more susceptible to these transfers than more common breeds.

ginger cat in orange scarf

Side fact: Other common pets do run a greater risk of catching a cold from their humans. Ferrets for, example, can catch the flu from humans. Dogs are lucky in that they definitely cannot.

3. Can Cats Catch Colds From Getting Wet and Cold?

Catching a cold from getting wet or getting cold is a common misconception. No one gets a cold from simply experiencing those conditions. Colds are caused by viruses and bacteria.

But what does happen is that being subjected to adverse conditions heightens stress and tiredness and breaks down the body’s resistance to viruses. Your cat would still need to contract the virus from an already infected source.

tabby cat in shower

Cold weather and rain are more likely to cause hypothermia in cats. If they are outdoors in snowy or icy conditions, they may even get frostbite. Best keep kitty indoors, even if a cold is the last of their concerns.

Feline Upper Respiratory Infection

The name for a cat cold sounds serious, but in most cases, it’s not life-threatening. There are some concerns when symptoms are severe, as they can lead to secondary infections that may be more dangerous. Very young or old cats can be more vulnerable to these kinds of secondary infections.

tabby cat sneezing

Typical Symptoms of a Cat Cold

It’s pretty easy for a human owner to tell if their cat is feeling ill. The cat will act out of character, being listless or uncharacteristically isolated. Here are some typical signs of a URI.

  • Congestion
  • Open mouth breathing (due to blocked nose)
  • Dehydration
  • Excessive coughing
  • Excessive sneezing
  • Fever (A pet thermometer is a good idea for the home)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Red or watery eyes
  • Runny nose

Any number of these can manifest to varying degrees of severity.

What to Do if Your Cat Has a Cold

If your cat does indeed have a cold, you’ll be happy to hear that there are some things you can do to make its life just a little bit more comfortable. Even a cat’s life can use a bit more comfort, right?

Turn Up the Humidity

A good room humidifier or even a vaporizer will come in handy at a time like this. A humidifier will help make the air more breathable, especially in drier climates.

tabby cat asleep in blanket

Wipe Away the Excess Goop

You may want to try to gently dab or wipe any excess discharge from your cat’s nose. Older cats may not be able to keep the area in question as clean as they’d like. If your cat objects to this, that’s fine. It’s just an extra assist if it needs it.

If your cat is suffering from red, puffy or watery eyes, a gauze pad or light cloth dipped in a mild saline solution or water will help to clear any goopy residue.

Unrecognizable veterinarian cleaning ears of a cat with cotton buds.

Keep Food Handy and Try to Keep Kitty Eating

An ill cat may stop eating. In part, this is because it may not be able to smell food. But who wants to eat when you’re feeling down anyway?

Try to encourage your cat to eat as usual. You may need to invest in some extra exceptional tasty wet food.

Keep it Comfy and Warm

An extra warm blanky and a warm spot in the room (maybe closer to the radiator?) will be welcome. Also, more cuddles may keep some affectionate cats’ spirits up. Most of all, it will help you to keep an eye on whether its condition is improving or deteriorating. 

white cat asleep in human bed with coffee

Keep it Away From Other Cats

As far as possible, keep kitty away from other cats, especially ones that are not vaccinated. URIs and viruses are highly contagious.

Do Not Offer Human Remedies

Most importantly, do not give your cat any human medication or hand-me-down remedy. Only medication that is specifically prescribed for your pet is suitable for it.

grey cat about to sneeze

You might also be interested in reading my post Can cats be autistic?

Is There Treatment For Cat Flu?

No treatment can be considered a cure for cat flu. But most cats that are reasonably healthy have a built-in resistance to it.

The tricky bit with the viruses that cause URI is that they can lay dormant in a cat’s system for life once contracted. This means that if for some reason, your cat’s immune system is under stress, the URI may recur. 

If the URI results in secondary infections, a vet may prescribe antibiotics or other medication to deal with that.

silver scottish fold cat with cone

Is There a Way to Prevent Cat Flu?

The best defense against cat flu is to keep up your cat’s annual vaccinations. Cats can start with these from as young as 9 to 10 weeks old. Vaccines are very effective if your cat has not yet contracted the virus. If your cat has already acquired a virus that can remain dormant, it may not prevent a recurring URI.

When Should You Consult A Vet With a Cat Cold?

How severe should a cat cold be to call in a vet? If your cat seems to have been suffering from solid URI symptoms for four days or more, it’s time to consider asking a vet for advice. This applies even more if your cat is elderly, sickly in general, or very young.

Veterinarian listening to cat's heart

Final Thoughts

In the vast majority of cases, URIs pass by fairly quickly – at most in a week or two. Many healthy cats will suffer mild symptoms, the worst of which may be runny nose and eyes, with a bit of congestion, sneezing, and difficulty breathing through the nose.

But there are some cases where URIs can lead to more severe issues. So it’s always best to make sure that the symptoms are indeed alleviating within a reasonable time. With that said, a little bit of TLC will go a long way to both of you feeling better.

black and white cat with ice pack

Related Posts:

Can you Catch a Cold from a Cat?

How to keep your cat’s teeth clean without brushing

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