Do cats get the flu?

Cats can get the flu. In fact flu is one of the most common and most serious health concerns of felines. Flu is a viral infection on the cat’s upper respiratory tract. This is a highly contagious respiratory infection. A cat with flu can easily spread the infection by coming in contact with other cats. Prevalence of flu is high in areas where there are large cat populations such as in catteries, in shelters, vet facilities and in grooming salons. Cats of any age can be affected. Cat flu is rarely fatal in previously healthy adult cats. However, this upper respiratory infection can have serious and even fatal effects on kittens and on older cats with suppressed immune system.

Cat flu is a viral infection but bacteria can bring on secondary infection symptoms. Cat flu is either caused by Feline Calicivirus (FCV) or by the Feline Herpes Virus (FHV-1). Feline calicivirus causes mild cat flu. Although a less serious type of flu, affected cats would still suffer from symptoms similar to the symptoms of human colds and flu. Symptoms can be variable because of the different strains of the virus but typically, an infected cat would have ulcerations on the tip of the nose, on the tongue and on the hard palate. The cat’s gums will be affected by gingivitis as well. These ulcerations in the mouth would make the cat drool and turn away from food as it would be too painful to eat. Calicivirus infection causes cold-like symptoms thus the cat would have runny nose. The cat would have eye discharge because the membranes of the eyes are affected as well. Calicivirus causes a limping syndrome thus the cat will be noticed to limp.

Feline herpes virus also known as Feline Virus Rhinotracheitis is a more dangerous strain of cat flu. This virus causes the eyes to swell and to have purulent discharge. Another common symptom is sneezing. Due to the inflammation of the nasal lining, the cat would have a nasal discharge that will begin as a clear fluid and would later on thicken and take on a greenish color as the disease progresses. Lethargy, fever and loss of appetite are other symptoms of FHV infection. This condition causes the cat to lose its sense of smell. Cats that cannot smell would not eat. Dehydration can have fatal effects on the affected cat.

Feline flu can spread easily. The virus is shed by an infected cat by sneezing and through eye and nasal discharge. Cats can get infected by coming in direct contact with the discharge or by using contaminated feeding bowls, beddings and cages. Cats that have recovered from flu would no longer show symptoms but they will continue to carry the virus. Feline herpes virus would in fact be carried by the cat for life.

Just as with human flu, feline flu can run its course in several days. The owner would just need to ensure that the pet receives proper nursing care so that it can have good nutrition and the most needed proper rest. However, a vet’s attention would be necessary if the pet is not eating. The cat’s flu can result to dehydration. The vet would typically require the pet to be hospitalized. Antibiotics would be administered for secondary infections. Intravenous therapy will be administered to rehydrate the pet. The effects of flu on our feline friends are rarely fatal these days. But it would still be necessary for a cat parent to recognize the symptoms of this upper respiratory infection. The causative virus is airborne thus it would be very easy for the pet to get infected. This feline upper respiratory infection can be prevented by having the pet vaccinated.

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