What Every Cat Owner Should Know About Cat Cold Symptoms

cat with a cold in manchester, nh
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Cat owners cherish their companions for their playful antics and comforting presence. Yet, like humans, cats can also catch colds, impacting their health and happiness. In this blog, we’ll explore what a cat cold is, its symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment options, and preventive measures. If you’re concerned about your cat’s health, don’t hesitate to reach out to Best Friends Animal Hospital in Manchester, NH, at (603) 625-2378.

Understanding Cat Colds

A cat cold, technically referred to as an upper respiratory infection (URI), is akin to a human cold but specific to felines. It’s typically caused by various pathogens, affecting the nose, throat, and sinus areas.

Recognizing the Symptoms of a Cat Cold

Cats with a cold exhibit several signs, which may include:

  • Sneezing and Runny Nose: Frequent sneezing and a runny nose are common indicators.
  • Coughing and Congestion: Coughing and nasal congestion can make breathing difficult.
  • Eye Discharge: Watery or pus-like discharge from the eyes is often seen.
  • Loss of Appetite: Cats may lose interest in food due to taste and smell impairment.
  • Lethargy: Decreased energy levels are common during illness.

The Culprits Behind Cat Colds

Understanding the pathogens responsible for cat colds is essential for effective treatment and prevention. Here’s a closer look at each:

Feline Herpesvirus Type-1 (FHV-1; or Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (FVR))

FHV-1 is a highly contagious virus causing severe respiratory infections. It can cause symptoms including sneezing, nasal congestion, conjunctivitis, and sometimes corneal ulcers. The virus spreads through direct contact, sneezing, and shared food and water bowls. This virus may cause recurrent infections throughout a cat’s life. 

Feline Calicivirus (FCV)

FCV is another prevalent cause of respiratory infections in cats. It typically manifests as oral ulcers, respiratory symptoms, and occasional lameness. Numerous strains exist, making vaccination challenging but essential.

Bordetella Bronchiseptica

This bacterial infection is more commonly associated with dogs, but it can also infect cats. Symptoms include severe coughing and nasal discharge. Antibiotics are usually the best treatment against this illness. 

Chlamydophila Felis (C. felis)

Chlamydophila Felis is a bacterial infection that primarily affects the eyes, leading to conjunctivitis. It can be spread via close contact and is more common in multi-cat households and shelters. 

Less Common Causes

Some less common causes of colds in cats include Mycoplasma and feline retroviruses. 

Each of these pathogens requires a specific approach in terms of diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. Cat owners need to be aware of these causes to better understand and care for their cats, especially if they exhibit any symptoms of a cold.

Diagnosing Cat Colds

A thorough diagnosis is necessary to effectively treat a cat cold. Veterinarians may use several diagnostic methods:

Comprehensive Physical Examination

  • Observation: Veterinarians look for visible symptoms such as discharge from the nose and eyes, sneezing, coughing, and signs of discomfort.
  • Auscultation: Listening to the cat’s lungs and airways with a stethoscope to detect abnormalities like wheezing or crackles.

Laboratory Testing

  • Nasal or Throat Swabs: These are analyzed to detect the presence of viruses like Feline Herpesvirus or Feline Calicivirus.
  • Blood Tests: These can help assess the overall health of the cat and rule out other conditions that may mimic cold symptoms.
  • PCR Testing: Polymerase Chain Reaction testing can identify specific pathogens, offering a precise diagnosis.

Imaging Techniques

  • X-rays: These can reveal any complications such as pneumonia or structural abnormalities in the respiratory tract.
  • Ultrasound: This may be used in some cases to examine the condition of the lungs and surrounding tissues.

Treating Your Cat’s Cold with Care

Treatment strategies are tailored to the cat’s specific symptoms and the severity of the cold:


  • Antivirals: Used if a virus is the primary cause, such as Feline Herpesvirus.
  • Antibiotics: Prescribed when there’s a bacterial infection or to prevent secondary bacterial infections in viral colds.

Supportive and Home Care

  • Fluid Therapy: To prevent dehydration and maintain hydration, especially if the cat is not eating well.
  • Nutritional Support: Encouraging the cat to eat by offering palatable, aromatic foods; in severe cases, a feeding tube might be needed.
  • Cleaning: Regularly wiping the cat’s nose and eyes to remove discharge and prevent crust formation.

Environmental Management

  • Humidifiers: Adding moisture to the air can help ease breathing.
  • Quiet and Warm Environment: Keeping the cat in a calm and warm area helps in faster recovery.

Prevention: Protecting Your Cat from Colds

Effective prevention strategies can significantly reduce the risk of your cat catching a cold; however, no method is a 100% guarantee against infection. 


  • Core Vaccines: Regular vaccinations against Feline Herpesvirus and Feline Calicivirus are essential.
  • Timely Boosters: Keeping up with booster shots as recommended by the veterinarian.

Environmental Management and Hygiene

  • Minimizing Stress: Stress can weaken a cat’s immune system, making them more susceptible to colds.
  • Cleanliness: Regular cleaning and disinfecting of your cat’s living space, food and water bowls, and litter boxes.

Lifestyle Choices

  • Indoor Living: Keeping cats indoors to limit exposure to infectious agents from other animals.
  • Controlled Socialization: When socializing with other cats, ensure they are healthy and vaccinated.

Human and Cat Colds: Understanding the Risk

The question of whether humans can catch colds from cats, or vice versa, is a common concern. However, viruses that cause colds in cats are typically specific to felines and do not infect humans. Similarly, human cold viruses are not usually a risk to cats. And while some diseases can be transmitted between animals and humans, common colds are typically not among them. Despite the low risk for cats and humans alike to infect each other, it’s always good to practice and maintain good hygiene when living with and handling cats. If you have a compromised immune system, be particularly cautious and seek medical advice if you have any concerns. 

Reach out to Best Friends Animal Hospital at (603) 625-2378 for professional advice and care for your cat. We’re always happy to help if you have any questions!

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