Cat flu is a common illness affecting the upper respiratory tract in cats, much like a cold or the flu in humans. It is mainly caused by one of two viruses; feline herpes virus and feline calicivirus. Once the cat is unwell, bacterial infections can also become involved and often make the illness worse. Cats most likely to be worse affected are the very young, very old or those with a damaged immune system, as they find it more difficult to fight off infections. For these cats, catching flu can be life threatening.
It is spread much like a cold, through your cat coughing and sneezing then other cats picking up the germs. Once cats have recovered from cat flu, it’s possible for some cats to continue to harbour the infection and come down with cat flu again, particularly during times of stress or other illness.
The signs of cat flu are very similar to a cold or flu in humans. You should look out for:
If you notice any of these symptoms in your cat you should contact your vet.
While there’s no cure for cat flu, the symptoms can be treated a number of ways:
Your vet may not prescribe any medication if your cat only has a mild case, but there are ways you can help your cat with their symptoms at home. These include:
The easiest way to stop your cat from getting severe cat flu is by getting them vaccinated. This won’t prevent them from catching cat flu, but it will help to prevent them from getting severe symptoms and greatly reduces the chance of them needing extra treatment and hospitalisation.
Kittens are more vulnerable to cat flu as they have immature immune systems. If their mum has been vaccinated, kittens will get some immunity from cat flu when they are born. This does fade though, so you’ll need to make sure your kitten is given their first course of vaccinations at around eight to nine weeks old.
If their mum has not been vaccinated, kittens are more at risk of getting seriously ill from cat flu. They can also catch it from their mum if she falls ill with cat flu while pregnant.
Kittens with cat flu can develop severe symptoms, such as pneumonia and eye ulcers.
Although the symptoms might be similar, humans cannot catch cat flu. Likewise, cats cannot catch human flu. Dogs also cannot catch cat flu.
Cat flu is highly contagious between our feline friends though. If you have more than one cat it’s really important to keep them all vaccinated and if one of your cats gets cat flu, make sure you wash the bedding and bowls they use thoroughly.