Cat Flu

Cat Flu


Cat flu or cat flu complex is the common name for a feline upper respiratory tract disease. Cat flu is a multifactorial disease which means that clinical symptoms are generally as a result of a combination of various factors. While feline upper respiratory disease can be caused by several different pathogens, there are a few symptoms that they have in common. Pathogens that can cause the symptoms on their own (primary pathogens) include feline herpes virus and feline calicivirus. The disease often takes an acute form but can also become chronic.

Flu in cats isn't all that different from the human variation. Just like in people, most cats can fight it off; however, for more elderly animals, kittens or cats with an underlying condition, it can be more serious. Large populations of animals, for example in animal shelters, catteries and multicat households, are particularly at risk, other contributory factors are poor hygiene conditions, frequent contact with other animals and invariably, stress.

Cat flu is generally viral, meaning that in most cases antibiotics won't be effective. Luckily there are vaccinations available. Although it's not a guaranteed defence, vaccinating your cat goes a long way towards protecting them, especially when they find themselves in the midst of groups of cats.


Symptoms of cat flu range vastly in severity: whereas one strain of the virus might only result in a bit of sneezing and a runny nose, another can lead to life threatening complications. Depending on the virus, animals develop a local or systemic infection and the main symptoms are eye and nasal discharge.

The first disease symptoms usually appear 2-6 days after infection and whether they are sneezing or sniffling, the symptoms of cat flu can be fairly easy to identify. Here are some of the common symptoms:

  • Sneezing: This is the main way in which the illness is spread. Just a few droplets from an infected cat's sneeze can carry a distance of metres.
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Difficulty with, or noisy breathing
  • Dribbling
  • Change in behavior
  • Loss of appetite
  • High temperature
  • In serious cases, ulcers around the eyes
  • Aches and pains around the joints or muscles
  • Loss of voice
  • General lethargy
  • Fever
  • Mouth ulcers
  • However mild or serious the signs, you should take your cat to see the vet as soon as you spot cat flu symptoms. If the condition becomes severe and is not treated, it can cause permanent eye damage, pneumonia or even death.

Cat flu is generally spread by direct contact between cats (through saliva, tears or nasal discharge) but just like its pesky human equivalent, it is very contagious and can also be spread indirectly, such as via food bowls, bedding, litter trays or human hands. It however cannot be caught by humans or other animals. Because of the serious debilitating effect it could have on affected cats, it is vital to have all kittens vaccinated against the viruses that cause the flu.

Vaccination can prevent disease or reduce the severity of symptoms in those cats who become ill. Also, to prevent contraction make sure that your cat's bedding, bowls, and litter tray are cleaned regularly. The virus can lurk in unexpected places and can even be transmitted by other people. Cats can also become carriers of the illness without showing any signs of the sickness itself.

Any cat who is sick with cat flu must be isolated from other cats until they are fully recovered. Their food bowls, litter trays and bedding must also be washed separately. Recovery typically takes around two weeks.


Once you notice the symptoms of cat flu in your cat, you can have him checked by the vet to confirm your suspicions. Then they'll probably suggest vaccines or proscribe some antibiotics. These pills will definitely be effective and help with certain complications. They are however tricky to give your cat and there is currently no single cat flu treatment. Instead, keeping your cat comfortable and nursing them at home is the best way to get them better.

1. Keep their fluids up and encourage them to drink, as water can help loosen catarrhal secretions.steam can also help with this.

2. Try to keep their eyes and now clear. You can gently wipe away any discharge that accumulates with cotton wool pads dipped in salt water.

3. Try to encourage them to eat if they lack appetite. You can offer soft foods or stronger smelling foods in case their throat is sore or have lost their sense of smell.

4. In general, make sure you keep them warm, dry, comfortable and create and isolated space for them to recover in.


Following infection, many cats are left as carriers, which means they don't have symptoms but are potentially infectious to others. Some carriers occasionally have a runny eyes or nose for a few days. Recurrence can follow stressful events but some others are unlucky and are left with a permanent, life long, thick runny nose or 'chronic rhinitis'.
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