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Worried about cat flu? Find out more about symptoms and how to stop your cat getting cat flu.

What is cat flu?

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.

Symptoms of cat flu

The signs of cat flu are very similar to a cold or flu in humans. You should look out for:

  • sneezing
  • runny nose and eyes
  • dribbling
  • loss of appetite
  • fever
  • mouth ulcers
  • sleeping more than usual
  • coughing

If you notice any of these symptoms in your cat you should contact your vet.

How is cat flu treated?

While there’s no cure for cat flu, the symptoms can be treated a number of ways:

  • eye drops – these will usually be given if your vet suspects an eye infection
  • antibiotics – your cat will only need antibiotics if they develop an infection
  • anti-inflammatories
  • medication to help loosen and break up snot

How to help a cat with cat flu

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:

  • keeping your cat warm and giving them peace and quiet. Make sure they have a cosy bed to cuddle up in where they can rest properly
  • keeping your house stress-free for your cat. Read more about cat stress in our guide
  • gently wiping away any eye or nose discharge with a damp piece of cotton wool
  • encouraging them to eat. If you’re having trouble, try warming their food a little or offering something strong-smelling, like sardines
  • encouraging them to drink. You can read more in our guide on cats and drinking
  • helping to relieve congestion by sitting with them in a steamy room (such as the bathroom). Always supervise your cat and don’t force them to stay if they don’t want to

How to prevent cat flu

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.

You can read more on vaccinating your cat in our guide.

Cat flu in kittens

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.

Can humans catch cat flu?

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.

Related topics

Common cat illnesses 

Finding a vet 

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