Monday, December 17, 2007

A Cat's Common Cold

Cats get colds just like us only for a cat we call it Infectious Rhinitis (the same term is used for humans too). Vets seem to call cat colds "cat flu". However, the word "flu" is short for influenza and this is a much more severe illness than the common cold and caused by a different virus. It can lead to pneumonia.

"Rhinitis" is a term describing irritation to the nose. "Infectious" refers to the infection of a virus. For a cat the virus concerned is feline herpesvirus (FHV) and feline calicivirus (FCV). 80% of cat flu is due to these viruses.

These are conditions that are very important to cat breeders as they must be controlled and absolutely minimized. They are most common in cats under 6 months of age. Also the infection (understandably) in most likely to take hold in an environment where there are several or more cats as in a cattery.

I have read some unfortunate stories about cats being bought that have these symptoms, which have been hidden from the buyer.

As in humans the cold can develop into a secondary bacterial infection. Vaccines are available for cat flu and these have proved successful. Why isn't there a successful vaccine for humans against the common cold?

It would seem that a cats suffers the same symptoms as us and in addition, conjunctivitis, which is an inflammation of the outermost layer of the eye and the inside of the eylid due to the same viral infection (although it can be caused by allergens and bacterial infection).


As for humans a cold should eventually go through the actions of the cat's own defense systems. Humans can help the process. The best care is provided in an environment where the cat is comfortable i.e. her home.

Other things that can be done:
  • warm ventilated environment
  • tasty food warmed up to enhance the smell if she is off her food due to ulcers or sore troat
  • steamy bathroom can help clear the nasal passages but take extreme care with hot water in the bath or shower.
  • if symptoms worsen a trip to the vet is the thing to do obviously.
Although colds an be cured they may leave a legacy of chronic inflammation of the nose. "Chronic" meaning recurring. This is due to the mucous membrane in the nose is permanently changed and enlarged. This may result in a permanent state of a low level cold like condition with sneezing and snuffling etc.

This is where buying a cat can be problematic. Watch out for these conditions on purchase and don't get carried away. Buying a cat is an emotional experience and a degree of common sense can disappear.

Lastly most cats don't completely rid themselves of the virus so they carry it and spread it. This applies to both FCV and FHV.

Note: I'll make the usual disclaimer. This article is carefully and responsibly researched and is based in part on personal experience but there is no substitute for getting a vet's opinion. I am not a vet.

Picture of healthy cat nose reproduced under creative commons copyright sniffette (appropriate don't you think)

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