38 facts about the common cold in cats

Here are 38 facts about the common cold in domestic cats. I like to present these sort of topics in succinct, bullet-point factual terms because I think it helps to understand the subject. The facts are presented chronologically as the disease develops. I hope that you find it useful. The source of the information is from a very reliable book together with personal experience. Please note, however, that I am not a veterinarian. There is no substitute for taking your cat to a good veterinarian. It is a duty, in truth an obligation, of a cat caregiver to seek prompt veterinary attention when required.

How do I know if my cat has coronavirus?
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

URI in a cat. Typically caused by the herpes virus. Photo: urbananimalveterinary.com

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  1. Cats get colds just like humans and they are quite similar in many ways as they are caused by viruses;
  2. The more technical term for the cat cold is ‘feline viral respiratory disease complex’. You also see ‘upper respiratory infections’ (URIs);
  3. As they are viral infections and as symptoms include coughing, sneezing and discharge from the eyes, the cat cold is highly contagious and they can spread rapidly through a multi-cat home, shelter or cattery;
  4. The disease is transmitted from cat to cat by: direct contact with infected discharge from the mouth, nose and eyes of an infected cat, contaminated litter boxes, contaminated water bowls and human hands but rarely by airborne droplets;
  5. The cat cold is one of the most common infectious diseases among domestic cats;
  6. A cat cold can kill kittens and in fact about 50% die of this disease while the disease is rarely fatal in adult cats;
  7. The viruses that cause a cat cold do not affect humans and therefore a cat cannot give their human owner a cat cold;
  8. Likewise, when a cat owner has a cold, they can’t give it to their cats;
  9. Two major viral groups are responsible for the majority of cat colds (80-90%): the herpesvirus group and the calicivirus group. The former is the cause of feline viral rhinotracheitis and the latter is the cause of feline caliciviral disease;
  10. A minority of cases of cat colds are caused by viruses in the reovirus group;
  11. There are two stages when a cat gets a cold: an acute stage followed by a chronic carrier state;
  12. A cat cold varies in severity; some have mild symptoms while for other cats the disease progresses rapidly and it can be fatal;
  13. Depending on the conditions, the virus can live outside the host for 24-hours or ten days;
  14. The beginning of the virus, whether it is going to produce a severe or mild illness, is the same;
  15. The first signs of an infection appear 2-17 days after exposure;
  16. The symptoms reach the maximum severity ten days after the initial symptom;
  17. The owner starts with severe bouts of sneezing which last 1-2 days;
  18. This is followed by a watery discharge from the eyes and nose and conjunctivitis;
  19. By the third to fifth day an infected cat loses their appetite, is apathetic and has a fever;
  20. The nasal discharge and eye discharge becomes purulent and mucoid i.e. it is made up of mucus;
  21. At this stage cats suffers from infected nasal passages and breathes through their mouth;
  22. If the cause of the disease is herpesvirus the cat develops a spastic cough (frequent and violent coughing) ;
  23. The surface of their eye may become severely inflamed and it made develop into keratitis or corneal ulcerations;
  24. If the cat is infected by the calicivirus there may be ulceration of the mucus membrane of the mouth which is called stomatitis;
  25. If that happens the cat loses their taste food, eating is painful and they refuse to eat and drink. They may have shortness of breath and may suffer from viral pneumonia;
  26. These cats may: have a secondary bacterial infection, starve, be dehydrated, lose weight and may die;
  27. A veterinarian will diagnose from symptoms and through a serologic test;
  28. Cats with an acute viral respiratory infection should be isolated for 3 to 4 weeks so as not to infect other cats in a multi-cat environment;
  29. Bedding, bowls, cages and other items that an infected cat comes into contact with should be disinfected by washing them with a dilute solution of bleach and water;
  30. The treatment includes humidification of the atmosphere and rest in a warm room;
  31. The owner should encourage their cat to eat by using highly palatable food with a strong smell and can also provide supplemental fluids using a syringe;
  32. Once the ill cat begins to eat and drink the worst is over;
  33. Secretions from the mouth, nose and eye should be wiped off with moist cotton balls when required;
  34. Afrin Children’s Strength Nose Drops, which can be bought over-the-counter in America, can be used to reduce swelling in nasal membranes;
  35. To administer these nose drops you apply one drop to one nostril the first day. The next day put one drop in the other nostril. Continue to alternate between nostrils. Owners should be careful to “prevent rebound congestion and excessive drying out of the mucus membranes”. These drop should be used for no more than five days;
  36. If improvements aren’t seen promptly veterinary help should be sought;
  37. If secondary bacterial infection takes hold antibiotics should be prescribed but not during the viral phase although in my experience veterinarians tend to play safe and prescribe antibiotics when they are unsure as to whether the cause of the infection is bacterial or viral;
  38. As mentioned earlier, almost all cats that have been infected with feline viral rhinotracheitis become chronic carriers as the virus lives and multiplies in the cells lining the throat. It flares up during stress and illnesses and the virus is shed in mouth secretions. The cat may show signs of a mild upper respiratory illness.
Cat has a cold and owner provides reassurance

Cat has a cold and owner provides reassurance. Photo: Pixabay.

Below are some more pages on cat colds:

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.
Useful links
Anxiety - reduce it
FULL Maine Coon guide - lots of pages
Children and cats - important

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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