Feline cold symptoms can indicate a mild bout with a virus or the beginning a more serious respiratory infection.
Can Cats Really Get Colds?
When people get colds, it is typically caused by a rhinovirus. Cats are not generally susceptible to the same viruses that affect humans, but they are affected by other viruses that produce identical symptoms. Nearly all cat "colds" can be traced to an infection by either calicivirus or herpesvirus. Symptoms of illness usually show up anywhere from a few days up to two weeks after initial exposure.
Common Feline Cold Symptoms
How can you tell when your cat might have a cold? Watch for the following symptoms.
- Sneezing - Sneezing is an involuntary reflex designed to expel foreign bodies and other invaders from the nasal system. It is typically the first and most prominent cold symptom you'll notice in your cat.
- Nasal discharge - As the virus begins to cause irritation to the nasal lining, the body produces mucus to protect those passages. As new mucus is produced, the excess leaks from the nostrils or is expelled through sneezing.
- Eye discharge - Otherwise known as conjunctivitis, this symptoms usually appears as the cold virus progresses and results in mucus build up in the eyes that can dry to an uncomfortable crust if not gently wiped away using a warm, moist cloth.
- Mouth breathing - As the nasal passages swell and become blocked my mucus, a cat may resort to breathing through the mouth in order to take in enough air.
- Mild lethargy - It's not unusual for a cat to feel a little tired while his immune system is engaged in fighting off a viral invader. You'll probably notice that your cat sleeps more and is less interested in investigating his environment.
- Mild fever - Although this may be difficult to detect, the average normal cat temperature runs between 100 and 102 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Less appetite - Some cats won't eat as much or as often as they usually do.
Symptoms that indicate more than the common cold:
- Coughing - Coughing usually indicates the infection has spread to the lungs and is causing mucus production. This might indicate that the cat is going into pneumonia.
- Labored breathing - This is beyond the typical breathing difficulty associated with blocked nasal passages. A cat with labored breathing will seem much weaker, and you can see the chest rise and fall with greater effort. This usually means there is fluid buildup in the lungs that requires an antibiotic treatment to relieve.
- Mucus darkens in color - It's typical to see a clear or creamy colored mucus discharge in a cat with a cold virus, but if the mucus begins to turn darker shades of yellow, green or brown, it is likely a sign that a secondary bacterial infection has set in while the immune system is compromised. This is usually when a common cold turns into a dangerous respiratory infection, and it becomes time to consult with your vet.
- Mucus thickens - This is usually an indicator of dehydration. Once the mucus thickens, it become more difficult for the cat to expel it.
Treatment for Cold Symptoms
Never Give Cats Human or Canine Medications
First and most importantly, you should never give your cat any human cold relief medications unless your vet recommends a specific medication and provides you with the proper dosage information. Similarly, you should never try to administer dog medications to a cat. Any of these medications could cause serious illness or death, so consult directly with your veterinarian if you feel your feline needs medication to relieve his symptoms.
The main treatment for feline cold symptoms is to provide supportive measures to help your cat feel more comfortable as his immune system concentrates on fighting the virus. These measures include:
- Run a vaporizer. - Adding more humidity to your cat's immediate environment helps keep his breathing passages moist. This in turn helps him expel mucus buildup. You should use a cool mist vaporizer.
- Keep your pet away from drafts. - It's important to keep your pet warm and comfortable while he is ill. It's true that a cat mainly relies on his fur to keep him warm, but cold drafts provide added stress to his body, and stress can keep the immune system from functioning as it should. If needed, move your cat's bedding to a warmer location in the house.
- Remove the mucus. - Wipe away secretions with a warm, moist paper towel and discard.
- Try to keep your cat hydrated. - Although your cat may feel less like drinking while he's ill, it's important to keep up his fluid intake to stave off dehydration. Dehydration can drive up a fever as well as cause mucus secretions to thicken. Make sure your cat has fresh water available, and feed him moist cat food at this time if you normally feed dry food. Cats really take in more moisture from their food than by drinking. You might also entice your cat to drink more by offering him small amounts of chicken broth.
Although there is no way to completely prevent a cat from getting a cold or upper respiratory infection, you can help boost his immune system so he is better able to fight off a virus once he has been exposed.
- Providing good nutrition is key to keeping the immune system in top condition. Always feed your cat the best quality food you can afford. This food should have real protein as the main ingredient. Other fillers should be kept to the bare minimum.
- Keep your cat's living space clean. Wash your cat's food bowl and water dish daily, and mop your floors on a regular basis. A mild bleach solution will kill viruses on most hard surfaces.
- Make sure your cat is properly vaccinated.
- Limit his exposure to cats outside of his household.
Daily interactions with your cat will help you spot feline cold symptoms at the earliest opportunity.