Can cats get colds?

Yes, cats can get colds but the viruses that causes them are different to those that cause the human cold. You can’t get a cold from your cat and vice versa.

Cat cold
Cat cold. Picture in public domain.
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Firstly, the word ‘cold’ in in this instance refers to a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract. It used to be thought that people ‘caught’ a cold because of cold and wet weather hence the name for this disease.

For cats, vets sometimes refer to “Feline Viral Respiratory Disease Complex” when referring to colds. Feline respiratory diseases are very contagious and therefore spread fast in shelters and multicat homes.

They are one of the most common infectious diseases in cats. Few cats die of the disease but about 50% of kittens die of colds.

Eighty to ninety percent of cat colds are caused by two major viral groups: Herpesvirus and calicivirus.

There are two stages of infection: the acute stage and the chronic carrier stage. The severity of the disease various between cats. It can be mild or it can progress quickly and is sometimes fatal.

Transmission between cats occurs in various ways: direct contact with infected discharge from nose and mouth, contaminated litter trays, water bowls, human hands, airborne droplets.

Symptoms appear 2-17 days after exposure. Maximum severity occurs at 10 days.

Cats can get secondary bacterial infections leading to conditions such as pink eye (conjunctivitis). Often we see feral kittens who have lost an eye or both eyes through untreated bacterial infections.

See a vet asap if the infected cat becomes dehydrated, refuses to eat, loses weight or does not respond to home treatments. Like human colds there is no cure but there are things cat owners can do:

  • In multicat situations: isolate the cat for 3-4 weeks. Disinfect bedding, bowls, cages and other items by washing with a dilute solution of bleach. People should change clothing and disposable shoe covers. hands should be washed often.
  • Ideally, cats with colds should be confined to a warm room with a vaporiser.
  • Cats should be encouraged to eat and drink.
  • Clean secretions from nose and eyes with moist cotton balls.


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