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What You and Your Cat Need to Know About Cat Flu

As a pet owner, it is your responsibility to take care of the health of your pet.

This guide will help you properly identify signs of cat flu and provide you with resources to help prevent your feline friend from contracting the virus in the first place.

This guide will help you properly identify signs of cat flu and provide you with resources to help prevent your feline friend from contracting the virus in the first place.

Cat flu is a term most cat owners hate to hear associated with their pets. The main disadvantage a cat infected with cat flu has is that it becomes more susceptible to secondary infections. If you think your cat has the flu, please speak to a vet to prevent it from reaching that stage.

The cat flu can make it a lot more difficult for a cat to recover from a secondary infection in the long run. This secondary infection could be a factor that contributes to the death of your pet.

There are three strains of the cat flu virus:

  1. FHV – Feline Herpes Virus, or the older term FVR—Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis
  2. FCV – Feline Calicivirus
  3. Feline Chlamydophila

A genus of bacteria called Bordetella is also many times detected in cats affected with cat flu.

Anyone who owns a cat needs to realise that most likely, their cat is a carrier of the virus. This does not mean your pet is ill, it just means the virus is in its system.

Spreading by Carriers

A cat that has become infected with the virus is a carrier. It will be very contagious to other cats that are already in your home and in the surrounding areas where you live.

The cat itself might actually not experience the symptoms of cat flu, but at certain times it might pass it on to another cat. A few typical ways the virus spreads include:

  • Fighting: This might be due to fighting where the carrier bites the other cat.
  • Cleaning: The saliva of the carrier cat can also pass on the bacteria. So if cats were eating from the same bowl and cleaning eat other, this is a sure way for the virus to spread.
  • Urination: If an infected cat sprays its urine in certain areas, another cat who breathes in this scent could inadvertently become infected with the virus.

This cat will then suffer the cat flu symptoms, which could lead to their death.

Cat flu can be dangerous in cats if not treated properly.

Cat flu can be dangerous in cats if not treated properly.

How Your Cat Becomes a Carrier

There are two ways that a cat can become a carrier.

  1. It was passed on to it when it was a kitten by its mother who was already infected with the virus. In many cases kittens, if very weak, might die from the cat flu.
  2. The second way they can catch the virus is from another infected cat who is a carrier.

The only way to stop your cat from contracting cat flu is to keep it away from other cats. The best way to do that is to keep them indoors.

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There is a vaccine out there that can help you protect your cat from the cat flu virus, but this vaccine alone won’t stop your cat from getting the cat flu. It just helps reduce the symptoms that will occur if your cat gets the virus.

The best way to avoid your own pet cat from catching the virus is to keep it indoors and away from infected cats.

Symptoms

Signs you should look for to determine whether your cat is in fact affected by cat flu include the following:

  • Runny nose with heavy discharge
  • Constant sneezing
  • Sore mouth (though this symptom in itself is not enough to determine whether your cat has the flu; if it has gingivitis, it will also have a sore mouth)
  • Unwillingness to eat any food
  • Depression and unusually quiet demeanor

If your pet has a runny nose, it won't be able to smell the food, so it will be unwilling to eat anything. This eventually leads to loss of strength and weakness.

Any problems with a cat's mouth again will likewise make eating an issue—it won’t be able to chew and swallow the food.

Many owners who know their pet’s habits will be able to tell if their pet is suffering from something because it won’t be acting like the normal cat that they have come to love. If your once active cat now spends all day in its bed sneezing and acting like it is sad and depressed, then chances are your pet has the cat flu. So bringing your cat to the vet to get a diagnosis is a must.

Of the three virus strains mentioned above, Feline Herpes Virus, Feline Calicivirus, and Feline Chlamydophilia, you will find that the first two will probably be the virus your cat will be diagnosed with. These are the two most common types of respiratory tract viruses out there.

Feline Calicivirus might only present itself when you realise that your cat has mouth ulcers either on the tongue or the roof of the mouth. They might also have nasal discharge, but this will be milder than what you may expect.

Feline Chlamydophila will usually present itself at first as an eye infection, and your cat might not experience any of the other symptoms.

Getting a Diagnosis

To determine whether your cat has the cat flu, your vet will take a blood test. Once he or she has determined that your cat is indeed suffering from the cat flu, the vet will give your cat a shot.

This shot is to help the cat recover their appetite.

Your vet will also give it some antibiotics if it is suffering from a secondary infection it may have picked up while weakened by the cat flu virus.

A visit to your veterinarian is essential to confirm your cat has cat flu.

A visit to your veterinarian is essential to confirm your cat has cat flu.

Entice Your Pet

Try to entice your sick cat to eat food by itself by using food with a strong smell. Fish would be a good start as it can be quite strong.

Tuna or sardines could be a good choice to pick. Get tuna in oil or brine and mash it up with a fork. It's also soft, which means the cat won't have trouble swallowing.

When Your Cat Has No Appetite and Isn't Eating

If unfortunately your cat is not eating on its own, then you might be required to force-feed it. Be gentle and understanding if you need to do this. Plan out a schedule that will give you plenty of time to feed your pet, especially if you have work each day.

Determining how long it should take your cat to recover from cat flu is hard, and takes time—some say three weeks while others say seven. It really depends on the cat. If your pet is young and strong, then chances are it will be able to fight the virus and should get better after a few weeks.

However, if you have a young kitten or an older cat, its immune system might not be as strong, and its health could very well start going downhill very quickly. The booster shots which are given to encourage the cat to start eating might only work for a short period of time, and then the pet might start losing strength once more.

Prevent the Spread of Cat Flu in Your House

If one of your cats is diagnosed with cat flu, then you need to quarantine it from other house cats. Taking care to do the following things is also important to prevent the virus's spread.

  1. Wash bowls from cats separately and disinfect the bowls of the sick cat.
  2. If you handle the sick cat, ensure that you wash your hands afterward.
  3. If you’re handling the cat, then either wearing something over your clothes are changing your clothes is a good idea. This is to prevent the spread of hidden germs on your clothing.
Don't let your healthy cat get cat flu. Protect and look after it, and it will live a long and happy life.

Don't let your healthy cat get cat flu. Protect and look after it, and it will live a long and happy life.

Ways to Aid Recovery

If your cat is suffering from cat flu, then you might need to do something to help it get better.

  1. Give lots of attention.
  2. Ensure that it eats, and if it doesn’t eat by itself, then you need to persuade or force-feed it to keep it strong.
  3. Keep the cat’s eyes and nose clean and clear by cleaning gently with a damp cloth.
  4. Try using a few drops of echinacea herbal tincture to help its immune system get stronger. (This tincture usually presents no problems, but consult your vet beforehand.)
  5. Bring your cat into the bathroom and allow the steam from the shower to help with the clearing of its sinuses.

All you can do for a cat with cat flu is be there for it and try everything you can to help it get better. Most cats can recover. Unfortunately, if cats get a secondary infection, tumor, or weakened immune system, you need to be prepared for things to not work out. The cat is the only one who has the power to actually get over it, and if the medication doesn't work, then it just might be time to talk to the rest of the family.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

Question: Once my cats recover from cat flu should I clean all my bedding, couch covers and carpeting for them not to become re-infected?

Answer: Once they are a carrier of the virus, it means they have the virus in their system for life. The virus can reemerge at any time. It is always good to clean food prep areas and play areas that your pets play in. To ensure you cats stay healthy, feed them a healthy balance diet, and bring them to the vet for a yearly check up to make sure everything is good. But if you feel more secure cleaning these areas to eradicate any traces of the virus especially if they were in those areas, then I think you should.

Question: My cat carries the feline flu virus but I'm thinking about getting a kitten. Should I get my cat injections first? Even though he's a house cat?

Answer: If you get kittens, they can not share the same food or water bowls as your cat. Also, if your cat has the flu, he/she is a carrier of the virus. Once the cat has the virus, an injection cannot cure it. I would get the kittens vaccinated. Cats with the virus can spread the virus to other cats by sharing food bowls, peeing in the same litter tray as urine carries the virus. It's best to not have the pets in the same area of your house. Keep them separate or else monitor them with playing with each other.

© 2012 Sp Greaney

Comments

Sp Greaney (author) from Ireland on February 12, 2019:

@Suey, ah the poor thing, that sound terrible. If in doubt, i'd bring the kitten to the veterinary. With kittens being so small and weak, it's hard to know how well they react to treatment and you are better of being cautious if you suspect things have not improved.

Suey on February 09, 2019:

I have a 12 week old kitten from a shelter who has cat flu & conjunctivitis. I have taken her to the vet & she was improving with antibiotics but today (4 days later) she seems to have taken a step backwards. She has been up most of today playing. Could it be that she hasn’t had enough sleep. She seems to have lost her voice a little bit.

Sp Greaney (author) from Ireland on September 18, 2018:

@Veronika, it's always a risk bringing a new pet into your home even when they have been thoroughly checked out.

See if you can find out which strain of cat flu the kitten had. If your cat has been vaccinated, then she is protected to a degree. But no vaccine is 100% safe proof, it just lessens the symptoms.

If you get the kitten, give both cats separate food bowls and water bowl, as well as separate beds.

But if you are unsure about things, then don't get the kitten. Let someone who doesn't have a cat already adopt it.

Veronika on September 17, 2018:

Hello, we have one cat who is 3 years old and she is vaccinated and healthy.

Now we are thinking to adopt kitten who previously had cat flu but now doing great and its ready for her forever home.

I just keep thinking if its good idea?

As obviously they will be using same cat litter and same bowls for water, toys, etc..

Would i put my cat in big risk?

Thank you.

Sp Greaney (author) from Ireland on July 13, 2018:

@Tara, it's hard to say. If your neighbours cat was vaccinated or never had it, then he could be in the clear and your cat could have something like allergies.

But to get reassurance, it might be worth getting him checked out. The thing about cat flu is that it so simliar to a regular cold.

If it continues for more that a few days and there doesn't seem to be any improvement, get him checked.

A blood test can confirm if he has it or not.

Tara on July 12, 2018:

Hi there

I have a 2 year old, unvaccinated male cat. He has a bad liver, so we have been advised to no longer vaccinate. He is a indoor cat, although i let him out on supervised times maybe once a week. We have a enclosed garden and he does not stray. He has recently started having sneeze attacks, should i worry? No eye dishcharge, or lethargy etc. We regulalry pet our neighbours cat, could he have caught something?

Sp Greaney (author) from Ireland on July 07, 2018:

@ Cal mar, if you are worried about your cat having this condition, bring it to your veterinarian.

Cal mar on July 04, 2018:

What is the chances of my 13 year old cat dying form cat flu

Sp Greaney (author) from Ireland on January 19, 2018:

@Emaan Haq, they are either born with it or another cat can pass it on to them. The cat flu is nothing like the common flu we ourselves get.

Emaan Haq on January 18, 2018:

How do they get cat flu? If a person in my family caught the flu, can it spread to my cat?

mrgabriel on September 05, 2017:

The vet wants to give my kitten shots everyday for anti inflammation and to strengthen the immune system.

Is this necessary?

Sp Greaney (author) from Ireland on December 15, 2016:

@ Linda, its good to hear about your pet recovering from chlamydophila last year. Like most conditions, pets can have relapses and if you do notice similar symptoms coming back, it is always wise to bring them to a veterinarian for a check up.

The symptoms you mentioned ( flu, sneezing and runny eye) seem eerily similar to cat flu too. So it would be hard to determine which condition your pet has. A blood test could determine which condition it is your pet has. Hope this helps you out. :)

Linda on December 13, 2016:

Hi ... great article.. do I have a question

I have a cat, almost a year know, he was diagnosed with chlamydophila last year, we got the medicine and recover ... but know he has like the flue, sneezing, and runni eyes ... i was wondering is this is actual Flu or a relapse of the chlamydophila

Sp Greaney (author) from Ireland on September 28, 2016:

Hi Pabija, thanks for commenting. There is a lot of information out there on the cat flu. It really depends on the strain of cat flu the pregnant cat had. I'm not a vet, so I can't really say if they develope immunity to it. But this is the case with humans in regards to certain illnesses and developing immunity, so I can't see why the same can't be said for animals.

If she has recovered from it, then hopefully, it wasn't the bad strain. Especially with her being pregnant and most likely never having received a vaccine, for her to seem fine now, this could be a positive thing. However, I would still stay alert until your own cat has fully recovered.