How do I know if my cat has a cold?

This is an easy question to answer, at least at a fundamental level, because the symptoms of a cat cold are very similar to those of a human cold. Veterinarians call cat colds "upper respiratory infections" or URIs. So you only have to think about people when they are suffering from a cold to recognise one in your cat. Remember, though, that cats cannot catch colds from us and vice versa because the viruses that cause cat colds are not zoonotic.

How do I know if my cat has a cold?
 How do I know if my cat has a cold? Recuperating. Photo: Pixabay.

So what are the symptoms? Well the symptoms from the herpesvirus last from 2 to 4 weeks and include sneezing and a discharge from the nose. There may be conjunctivitis in the eyes (pink eye) which is a secondary bacterial infection and possibly corneal ulcers if the disease is untreated. There might be drooling from the mouth and a fever. Pneumonia is rare from this disease and your cat is likely to be lethargic.

The symptoms from another well known virus causing cat colds, namely the calicivirus, includes a discharge from the nose, a discharge from the eyes, chronic gingivitis, ulcers of the mouth, fever (sometimes), pneumonia (common), lethargy (mild) and lameness.

I have mentioned the two major viral groups which are responsible for the majority of clinical upper respiratory infections in cats (80% to 90%). There are considerable variations in the severity of the illness. Some cats have mild symptoms while others have rapidly progressing severe symptoms which can sometimes lead to death. What percentage of cats have herpes?

Antibiotics can deal with any secondary bacterial infections such as conjunctivitis. As for the viral component of the disease, the patient should be rested and the atmosphere humidified. The patient should be confined to a warm room with a vaporiser. Eating and drinking should be encouraged because dehydration and anorexia can weaken a cat. 

Highly palatable foods with a strong smell should be provided. You can dilute with water. Supplemental fluids can be given using a syringe (ask your veterinarian about this or look it up on the Internet). Once your cat begins to eat and drink again the worst of the disease is over.

It is advised to wash and disinfect bedding, bowls, cages and other items that the patient comes into contact with to prevent a spread of the disease to any other cat in the home. Human caretakers can also be part of the spreading process and therefore they should change their clothing, wear disposable shoe covers and wash their hands frequently.

There is no substitute for asking a properly qualified veterinarian for advice but on recognising a cold in a cat, think about people and the symptoms that they display under the same circumstances.

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