How to treat your cat with the flu
Whether you’re already the proud owner of a pussycat, looking to welcome in a little fluffball or hoping to pick up a rescue cat, there’s a huge amount of reasons to do so. Cats make great companions and come with many health benefits for their owners. But just in the same way as their human counterparts fall ill, it’s only natural that from time to time, your feline friend will feel a little under the weather.
From the odd sniffle to joint and eye problems, your cat can pick up just about anything going, and you may be surprised to learn they can also be susceptible to a bout of cat flu every now and then.
Depending on how they've picked it up, symptoms can range from mild to severe, which is why getting Fluffy covered with cat insurance is an essential part of being a cat owner.
If it’s just a few sneezes, you could put it down to a cold or another form of short term illness, but if your cat or kitten has been coughing a little more than usual lately, you may be left wondering if they’ve picked up cat flu.
We’ve put together a handy guide to help you recognise the common symptoms, causes and treatment so you and your cat can rest easy, knowing they’ll be bouncing around on all fours again before you know it.
So, what are the symptoms?
Much like in the same way the flu can affect their owners, cat flu can manifest itself in a nasty cough, high temperature, loss of energy and loss of appetite to name but a few symptoms.
UK charity, Blue Cross says “cat flu is like a human cold – it can cause a runny nose and eyes, and a sore throat". They also advise that cat flu can produce the following common symptoms in your kitty:
- Aches and pains in the muscles and joints
- Mouth ulcers
- Loss of voice
Blue Cross also advises that whilst “cat flu is not usually serious in adult cats, they can be quite ill.” So however critical you feel your cat’s condition might be, it’s also best to visit your vet in the first instance just to be on the safe side.
It’s also important to ensure your feline is covered with cat insurance to avoid any unnecessary vet fees, which can become costly once added up.
To ensure you get the best cover for your little four-legged feline, make sure to shop around and compare cat insurance plans to get the best fit.
What about the causes of cat flu?
According to the Cats Protection, around 80% of cases of cat flu are caused by either one of 2 viruses, Feline Herpesvirus (FHV) or Feline Calicivirus (FCV).
They say: “FHV is spread by discharge from the nose/eyes and from the saliva of an infected cat” whilst “FCV can be spread by direct contact with affected cats, or by air-borne spread, or contamination of the environment.”
So in the same way that the human virus spreads easily from person to person, whenever a poorly pussycat sneezes, the cat flu viruses are spread openly within the air droplets.
When a cat becomes struck down with the flu, “the viruses may both be present and once they have damaged the lining of an infected cat’s respiratory tract, the disease may be further complicated by additional bacterial infections.”
Cats Protection also indicate that other causes of cat flu include “bacteria such as Chlamydophila Felis – which was once known as Chlamydia – and Bordetella bronchiseptica – the main cause of kennel cough in dogs.
”Whilst Chlamydophila can result in a milder form of cat flu with discharge and redness of the eyes, Bordetella can often present more serious symptoms. “It can progress to the chest, causing a serious infection and a relatively high death rate in kittens. Cats infected with Bordetella may develop a cough.”
Zoetis states that “whilst most cats that recover will become carriers and shed the virus after they have stopped showing symptoms, the FCV virus is shed continuously for a variable time after recovery. On the other hand, cats with Feline Herpesvirus - FHV remain carriers for life, but shedding is intermittent and generally associated with periods of stress.”
Whilst there are vaccines on offer from your vet, as is the way with humans, the cats most severely affected include the very young, the very old and those with a damaged immune system or other serious underlying illnesses.
And if you’re hoping to pick up a rescue cat or kitten, chances are you’ll be looking for said feline friend in a rescue home or cattery.
Blue Cross advises that “cat flu can be a real problem in any situation where a group of cats is kept, particularly if new cats are often introduced,” which means that rescue catteries and rehoming space can also provide a potential breeding ground for cat flu.
Can I pass on the flu to my cat?
As the Cats Protection point out, humans cannot catch cat flu but when it comes to the possibility of passing your own flu symptoms to your cat, that question remains a little up in the air.
Previous studies showed that cat flu wasn’t a zoonotic disease - something people can pick up from their pets - and that owners couldn’t pass on their human strain of flu to their four-legged friend.
However in 2009, the first ever recorded case of fatal human-to-cat transmission of the pandemic H1N1 flu virus occurred in Oregon in 2009.
In this instance, whilst the pet owner was hospitalised with her own flu condition, her cat passed away of pneumonia, which was caused by the H1N1 infection. Since then, cats, dogs and even ferrets have been identified with pandemic H1N1 infection that appears to have come from humans.
To make sure your kitty is safe and sound, if you or someone close to you is suffering from flu symptoms, it’s sensible to avoid close contact with your kitten or cat.
It’s also important to shop around and compare cat insurance options to make sure your feline is covered should they fall ill with the flu or anything else.
How is cat flu diagnosed?
As with many illnesses in pets, there are telltale signs of cat flu you can look out for in your feline – these can include common sneezing and wheezing to watery eyes, discharge and a lethargic manner – but for an official diagnosis, it’s best to whisk Fluffy off to the vet for a definitive diagnosis.
Your vet will be well-versed in the ability to spot signs of cat flu, be able to look at clinical signs, talk through your cat’s history and undertake a thorough clinical examination.
When it comes to your pussycat’s diagnosis, it can sometimes be a lengthy process, as it can take up to two weeks for cat flu to make itself known in your feline.
Classic cat flu is usually identified through a range of lab tests based on swabs taken from the eye and/or mouth and blood samples to further identify any viruses and bacteria.
Diagnosis can also be made more difficult for the vet when a cat has more than one infection or in FHV carriers, because “samples taken from the cats and sent to the laboratory for analysis rarely identify latent infections.
Because of this, the true incidence of herpesvirus cat carriers in the UK is difficult to quantify. Nevertheless, your veterinary practice will be able to spot the classic signs of cat flu and take action accordingly.
What about cat flu in kittens?
If your kitten picks up a bout of cat flu, it can make them very poorly and chances are you would know that something is wrong quite quickly. According to PDSA UK, in extreme cases, cat flu can even cause death in kittens.
So it’s imperative to speak to your vet about getting your kitten vaccinated against cat flu early on. It’s also a good time to compare cat insurance options and get your kitty covered against potential illnesses as soon as possible.
PDSA also states that: “Cat flu often affects kittens more severely than adult cats because they find it trickier to fight infections.
Unfortunately, once your kitten has caught cat flu, it’s possible they will become a carrier for life and suffer from ‘flare-ups’ from time to time.” Breeding queens that become persistent carriers of infection are also likely to infect their kittens and may cause serious disease.
As soon as you spot cat flu symptoms in your kitten, take them to see the vet. Not only can they make a more accurate diagnosis but they can also provide treatment, tips and advice on how to best look after your tabby, tortoiseshell or another beloved moggy.
PDSA.org.uk also advises to tell the vet that you suspect cat flu over the phone while you’re making the appointment.
That way they can ask you to wait outside the surgery in the car so as not to risk infecting the other patients that might be waiting.
Can kittens recover from cat flu?
Prevention is always better than cure, which is why it’s important to vaccinate your kitten against cat flu as soon as they’re old enough.
PDSA.org.uk advises cat owners to keep up with these vaccinations throughout their lives so they’re always protected, and not to let them out exploring until they’ve had all their shots.
What treatment is available?
Most cat owners trying to help treat their kitty will ask themselves ‘what can I give my cat for flu?’.
The majority of felines with cat flu can be treated at home by their owners by providing plenty of water, a safe space to rest and gently offering cold compresses to clear any eye or nose discharges.
Though it’s always best to seek advice from your vet before attempting any treatment plan yourself at home.
As the Blue Cross states, cat flu often can affect your moggie’s sense of smell and as cats depend on this when they’re eating, it can make them lose their appetite.
Giving them more strongly scented food could encourage them to eat. If your pussycat appears to be in pain, then you may need to obtain pain relief medication and a special type of softer food, both of which can be provided from your vet.
If your cat seems to be suffering from more serious symptoms, antibiotics can also be prescribed by your vet.
How long does cat flu last?
On the whole, cat flu can last around 2-4 weeks and the majority of cats infected with FHV will recover.
The Cats Protection advises that cat flu can leave your furry friend with ongoing problems in the future like inflammation of the nasal passage lining and airways due to inflammation and secondary infections.
This means that early detection from the vet and immediate treatment is vital when it comes to ensuring a positive outcome for your beloved kitty.
Is cat flu curable?
Generally, fit and healthy adult cats who are promptly treated for cat flu will recover well, as long as you seek medical help early on and follow the right steps to keep your kitty healthy.
But it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that doing so can often come with a hefty vet’s bill!
This is why it’s so important to shop around and compare cat insurance options to make sure you have the right cover in place for your pussycat.
Cat flu is usually covered but only if your cat received vaccinations against feline influenza and if these vaccinations were kept up to date.
Are there ways to help prevent cat flu?
Cat flu is much better prevented than treated and there are effective vaccines available from your vet.
No matter what age type of kitty you have – from tabbys to Siamese and all breeds in between – no matter if they are indoor or outdoor pussycats and no matter what age you decide to welcome a new bundle of fluff into your home, it’s vital to keep them vaccinated.
And all cats and kittens should be vaccinated against Leukaemia (FeLV) and Flu & Enteritis (FIE), followed by regular booster injections to ensure they are kept topped up.
Although these vaccinations won’t entirely cut out the risk of catching cat flu, they can prevent the development of the disease.
To help stop the flu from spreading – especially if you have more than one cat – the one who has contracted the disease should be kept away from their feline friends, even if this means quarantining them in a separate part of the house until they are fully recovered.
Cat flu can mean a little rest and recuperation is in order for your moggy but it could also be a potential life-threatening situation for your cat.
So, whether your pussycat is suffering from the sniffles or you think it’s something more serious, there’s never been a better time to compare cat insurance plans and get your new best friend covered. Don’t delay, get a quote today.