Cat Flu

Just like us, our feline companions can be susceptible to viruses and bacteria when exposed to another infected cat. In fact, a cat sneezing can infect another cat from several meters away! Most cases of cat flu will pass but it’s important to recognise the symptoms so that you help your pet get through the illness, and prevent any possible complications.

What is cat flu?

Similar to a human cold, cat flu comes from a set of viruses that weaken the immune system. For adult cats with strong immune systems it is normally nothing to worry about, but all cats with flu should still visit the veterinarian. In kittens, elderly cats or adults with other conditions, it can be a much bigger problem and may require more medical attention.

The most common complication with cat flu is that the eyes can develop ulcers which can progress to blindness or loss of an eye if not addressed immediately. If you notice your cat or kitten unable to fully open one or both eyes, be sure to visit the veterinarian straight away.

What causes ear infections in cats?

Ear mites, or Otodectes cynotis, are the cause of around half of the ear infections seen in cats, and these highly contagious parasites are particularly common in kittens. However, allergies, including environmental allergies (such as mold or dust mites), food allergies or flea allergies, are also a common cause of ear infections, as well as growths, tumors and abscesses.

Foreign bodies, such as seeds or plant material, can also easily become lodged in the ear canal and cause infection, while trauma, and a build-up of yeast and bacteria can also cause your cat’s ears to become infected. 

What are the symptoms of cat flu?

Symptoms of cat flu are similar to those of colds and flus in people, but vary slightly depending on which virus has taken hold. The main symptoms are: 

  • Clear discharge from nose and eyes
  • Depressed mood
  • Sore throat
  • Aches and pains
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Dribbling 
  • Sneezing 
  • Loss of voice
  • Fever

Sometimes symptoms can take up to 2 weeks to appear, but in most cases will disappear again within another 2 – 3 weeks.  

How is cat flu treated? 

There is no straight cure for cat flu but antibiotics can be effective in strengthening the immune system and stopping other illnesses setting in. The symptoms of cat flu can stop a cat eating and drinking, so it’s important that someone is on hand to offer constant care to help keep them hydrated and nourished with wet, strong smelling foods.

There are many tricks that can ease the other symptoms for your cat, for example ice chips or a small amount of ice cream can ease mouth ulcers, and letting your cat into a steam filled bathroom after someone has showered can help to unblock their nose. Your vet will be able to advice on the best solutions for your cat.

How can cat flu be prevented?

It is difficult to prevent your cat from ever coming into contact with a virus that causes flu, especially if they are free to roam outdoors and interact with other cats who could be carrying a virus. Some cats carry viruses without developing flu and so it’s possible for a seemingly healthy cat to pass on flu in these cases.

Even cats that are kept indoors cannot be totally sure of being safe from flu. Bacteria and virus spreading particles can stay in the environment and remain contagious for up to a week, meaning a cat could catch flu from a visit to the vet or groomers even if they were the only animal there.

There are vaccines available against the main strains of virus but, as with human flu, the virus evolves quickly and there will always be strains that the vaccine is not effective against.

Can cat flu be transmitted to other animals?

Cat flu is very easily passed between cats, as carriers of the virus can spread it even if they do not show any symptoms. The virus is specific to cats and cannot usually spread to humans or other breeds of animal.

However, there is one bacteria which can cause cat flu, Bordetella Bronchiseptica, which is the same as that which causes kennel cough in dogs, so it is believed that cats could pass dogs kennel cough, or that dogs could pass flu to a cat. Your vet may be able to tell whether your cat is suffering from a viral or bacterial infection, so you know whether to quarantine your cat from any dogs in the household.