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Do Cats Get Colds?

Posted July 29, 2015 in Cat Diseases & Conditions A-Z

Two cats grooming each other

Unfortunately, like us, our feline friends can get colds too. In fact, a cold (or upper respiratory infection [URI]), is one of the most common illnesses seen in kittens. Colds are especially common in settings where many cats live together, like pet stores, shelters and breeding facilities. Like kids in daycare, kittens in pet stores or shelters are more likely to develop upper respiratory infections (URI’s) due to their naïve immune systems and their close proximity to other cats.

What is a URI?
Upper respiratory infections are infections of the nose, pharynx and larynx caused by either viruses or bacteria. The most common viruses are calicivirus and herpes, and the most common bacteria are mycoplasma, chlamydia and bordetella species. Several of these agents are spread through a process known as aerosolization.

When a sick cat sneezes, countless minute droplets containing the infectious agents are released into the air. These droplets are small enough that they can remain airborne for extended distances and can infect cats some distance away. It is easy to understand why upper respiratory infections can spread so quickly in large cat populations. It only takes one sick cat to spread an upper respiratory infection throughout the entire cat population. Infections can also spread through direct contact, or indirectly through fomites. Fomites are inanimate objects that spread disease when they become contaminated and covered with infectious agents. Examples of fomites are bedding material, towels or food bowls. It turns out that your mother was right when she reminded you to cover your nose when you sneeze and told you to wash your hands with soap!

Signs and symptoms of cat colds
Most cats will only develop mild symptoms, such as sneezing, a runny nose, and watery eyes, which often resolve without any treatment. Vulnerable cats, such as the very young, very old or already sick, can develop more severe infections. Cats with severe upper respiratory infections may develop:

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Ruth has more than 15 years of experience in the veterinary industry as a companion animal veterinarian in private practice. Along with being a writer and media personality, she is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.