cosy cat wrapped in a blanket

How to treat a cat with a cold: Keeping them warm and creating a stress-free environment can speed up their recovery.

© Francesco Ungaro - Unsplash

Can cats catch colds? Causes, symptoms, and treatment of cat colds

By Greta Inglis Dog Behaviourist | Animal Behaviourist

Published on the

If your cat has the sniffles and seems low in energy, they may be suffering from a cold. Here we take a look at how to treat a cat with a cold.

Whether they live alone or with other cats, the chances of your cat catching a cold are fairly high at some point in their life. Much like with human colds, this can leave your cat feeling low in energy, and under the weather. 

A cold refers to a group of symptoms, which are usually caused by a virus. Thankfully, many cats will recover from the comfort of their own home, but it is worth monitoring them to check they don't need further veterinary attention.

How can you tell if a cat has a cold?

If your cat has a cold, they will most likely manifest one of the following symptoms:

  • Runny eyes and/or nose
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Lethargy
  • Dehydration
  • Fever

A cat with a cold may show signs of lower energy and lack of appetite. This is because congestion can prevent your cat from smelling or tasting properly, making meal-times less appealing to your four-legged friend. 

What causes cat colds?

The most common cause of a cat cold is the presence of a virus, which can make them extremely contagious between cats. Around 90% of upper respiratory infections are thought to be caused by one of two viruses. Depending on the severity, this may require treatment from a veterinarian.

Feline Herpesvirus

Feline herpesvirus, also known as feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR) is a feline infectious disease. Once infected, symptoms will usually show within 2-5 days, resulting in discharge from the eyes and nose - which ranges from transparent to purulent- conjunctivitis and sneezing.

Cats with FVR can recover fairly quickly with the right treatment. In mild cases, this may be a course of anti-viral medication, while more severe cases may require oral and topic medications prescribed by a veterinarian. A cat who has been infected will always remain a carrier, but as a species-specific virus, the herpes virus cannot be transmitted between pets and their owners.

Flare-ups can occur when your cat is stressed and their immune system is affected.

Feline Calicivirus 

A cat with Feline Calicivirus may manifest a similar range of symptoms, ranging from sneezing and a runny nose, to ulcers on the tongue. Infected cats may also salivate, as the ulcers can be painful. 

While cats that live indoors may be less prone to catching the virus, those that roam outdoors or have recently been to boarding kennels are at higher risk. It's essential that if you have multiple cats at home, you separate them if a cat is sick, regularly cleaning both the surfaces they walk on and their bedding. 

How to treat a cat with a cold

Once you've identified the symptoms of a virus, you may be wondering how to treat a cat with a cold.

In mild cases your cat may be able to receive symptomatic treatment from the comfort of their own home, with recovery taking up to 10 days. 

How to treat a cat with a cold will depend on the severity of their symptoms. Consult your local veterinarian if you notice difficulty breathing or lethargy.

Treating your cat's flu at home

As with human colds, there are many steps you can take to keep your cat feeling comfortable while they recover from a cold. To help speed up the process, here are some home remedies to try

  1. Bring your cat into the bathroom and let them spend time around warm water. The humidity can really help to ease congestion
  2. Heat up their food to increase the smell. This can help to improve your cat's appetite. 
  3. Create a calm and safe space for your cat. 
  4. Offer a heated bed to keep your feline friend feeling warm and cosy. 
  5. Replace bedding regularly to keep everything clean. This will help prevent any infection spreading
  6. Ensure fresh drinking water is available at all times. It's important your cat stays hydrated. 
Prevention is better than cure when it comes to treating a cat cold. Annual vaccinations go a long way in reducing the risk of infection.

If your cat doesn't show any signs of improvement within 4-5 days, shows difficulty breathing, or hasn't eaten for more than a day, you should seek veterinary care. Where a second bacterial infection is present, your cat may require a course of antibiotics

In more severe cases, your veterinarian may decide to run a complete blood count to rule out any complications, or a chest x-ray to be sure they aren't suffering from pneumonia. 

Treating a cat with Benadryl 

If your cat is sneezing multiple times in a row, it may be they're not suffering from a cat cold. While sneezing and a runny nose can most definitely be symptoms of a virus, sneezing in quick succession can also signal inflammation due to allergies or a bacterial infection

In the case of an infection, antibiotics will most likely be the best course of action. If, on the other hand, your cat is suffering from allergies, they may need a prescription for the antihistamine diphenhydramine. Sold as Benadryl, this medication is used to treat acute allergic reactions and is dosed on the weight of the cat. Benadryl may alleviate the symptoms of an allergy, but it will not cure a cat cold. Be sure to seek veterinary advice before deciding on a treatment plan.

While it can be hard to see your feline friend feeling sick, there are thankfully a number of ways to treat a cat with a cold. You'll need to ensure they're feeling warm and relaxed, with access to fresh water at all times. Tasty treats and their favourite food will go a long way in building an appetite, all of which can help boost the immune system.

See our top choices of cat treats

Do seek help if you feel your cat needs medical treatment, as your vet will be able to prescribe medication if needed. Before you know it your cat will be happy, healthy and keeping you on your toes once more!

More advice on...

What did you think of this advice article?

Thanks for your feedback !

Thanks for your feedback !

Frequently asked questions

Do cat colds go away on their own?

How do indoor cats catch colds?

Leave a comment
Connect to comment
Want to share this article?