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What Causes a Cat Cold?

A cat cold is also referred to as an Upper Respiratory Infection (URI). This can be caused by a bacterial or viral infection. If your cat is sneezing or has discharge, he may have a cold and should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible. Continue reading to find questions answered by Experts.

Cause and Transmission

Cats can catch a cold by being in close contact with another cat. It is possible for cats to pass the virus from several weeks to months after showing symptoms. Since it is mostly transmitted through sneezes and shared water and food bowls; it would be a helpful to keep the affected cat away from other cats. Luckily, feline URI cannot be transmitted or contracted from humans. The types of bacteria and viruses that most commonly cause URIs in cats are:

  • feline herpes
  • feline calicivirus
  • bordetella
  • chlamydia
  • mycoplasma

Cats with the herpes virus will have it for life and may reactivate at different stages of life including stressful situations. Cats with one of the viruses may not show symptoms but can pass it to another cat.


Common symptoms include:

  • Sneezing Episodes: Most times, this is the first and most prominent cold symptom you will notice.
  • Discharge from Eyes or Nose: As new mucus forms, excess leaks from the nostrils. Eye discharge appears as the virus progresses and will result in mucus buildup in the eyes.
  • Coughing or Excessive Swallowing: Coughing indicates the infection has spread into the lungs. Excessive swallowing is usually an indication there is drainage in the throat.
  • Lethargy: Your cat may sleep more and is less interested in exploring.
  • Fever
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Dehydration
  • Raised Third Eyelid
  • Congestion with Open-Mouth Breathing
  • Ulcers on the Eyes, Nose or in the Mouth

Diagnosis and Treatment

Immediate steps to take include:

  • Keep eyes and nose clear of discharge. Do this with a cottonball moistened with warm water.
  • Warm a can of cat food or meat flavored baby food to encourage eating. If your cat refuses to eat or move, it is urgent to take him to a veterinarian immediately.
  • Provide plenty of fresh drinking water.
  • Do not try to give your cat medication without consulting your veterinarian first. Human medications can be toxic to cats.
  • Kittens should be seen by a veterinarian at the first sign of a cold.

The veterinarian may take culture samples of your cat’s mouth, throat or nose to be examined if there are ulcers present. Antibiotics do not treat viruses but most feline URIs are treated with anti-bacterial medications to avoid problems of secondary bacteria taking advantage of a weakened immune system. Other medications may be prescribed to stimulate the immune system and help combat the virus.

Home Remedies

Vitamin C is a natural immunity booster because the citric acid supplies the cells with energy to fight off infection and speed recovery. Talk to your veterinarian about dosage and how to administer. Antiviral herbs are also great natural remedies. These include:

  • Elderberry: This can be made into a tea and fed to your cat. It treats sneezing and a runny nose.
  • Licorice: This is the natural equivalent of cortisone. It soothes mucus membranes.
  • Herbal Tablets: These are frequently used by pet owners in place of fresh herbs. These can relieve cold symptoms with ingredients including calcium sulfide, Ferrum phos and mullein leaves.


When cat cold germs are in the air, it is easy for your cat to catch a cold if his immune system is weakened. Some cats live their entire life without having a cold while others become sick every winter. To prevent this from happening, make sure he is getting nutritional food and his environment is clean. Additionally, you can vaccinate your cat to help protect against URIs. This has been added to the basic distemper injectable vaccination.

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