What is cat flu and how is it caused?
Cat Flu is the name used to describe the cold or flu-like symptoms that accompany an infection of the upper respiratory tract in cats.
Around 80% of cat flu cases are caused by either feline herpes virus or feline calici virus (or both). There are other, less common causes such as chlamydophila felis, and bordetella, which causes kennel cough in dogs.
How do cats catch cat flu?
Cat Flu is spread through direct contact, through droplets in the air and via contaminated surfaces.
Are all cats susceptible to cat flu?
While any cat with insufficient immunity can contract cat flu, it is more common in kittens before their vaccine has had time to create adequate protection. Very young kittens can get some immunity from their mother, but this does not last and it is also possible for pregnant cats to pass the infection on to her young.
Can I catch cat flu?
There have been no known cases of a human becoming infected with either feline herpes or calicivirus.
What are the clinical signs of cat flu?
Signs of cat flu include sneezing and nasal discharge, runny eyes, lethargy, loss of appetite, mouth ulcers and a cough.
How is cat flu diagnosed?
Cat flu will be suspected based on your pet’s symptoms, but to make a definitive diagnosis your vet will need to take a blood sample as well as a swab from your cat’s nose. Diagnosis can be tricky when cats are infected with more than one infection at the same time.
How is cat flu treated?
Unfortunately, there is no effective cure for cat flu as it is normally caused by a virus. As with the human flu, if symptoms are mild then good nursing care, combined with supportive treatment such as nebulising and eye ointments, should be enough help the cat to recover. Any hard secretions should be removed from the cat’s nose, eyes and mouth as this can prevent them from eating or drinking, leading to dehydration.
Some cat may require more urgent treatment for example, if the symptoms or more serious or they are showing signs of pneumonia. If this is the case treatment generally involves intravenous fluids and supplementary oxygen therapy.
Cat flu vaccination
There is a vaccine available for most strains of cat flu, and it is advisable to vaccinate your kitten as early as possible (nine weeks of age) as this is the most effective way of preventing disease spread. There are vaccines available for the bacterial form of this disease.
Be aware that much like the human flu vaccine, feline flu vaccines are not always 100% effective, and even vaccinated cats can become carriers of the disease without showing any symptoms, leaving them at risk of infecting other cats.
Cat Health Information
Find out more
To assist owners in understanding more about a health conditions that are specific to cats we have put together a range of information sheets to talk you through some of the more common health concerns seen and treated by our General Practice Vets.