Cat flu is the common name for a feline upper respiratory tract disease. Feline upper respiratory disease can be caused by one or more of these infectious agents (pathogens):
- Feline herpes virus causing feline viral rhinotracheitis (cat common cold). This is the disease most commonly associated with the "cat flu" misnomer.
- Feline calicivirus—(cat respiratory disease)
- Bordetella bronchiseptica—(cat kennel cough)
- Chlamydia felis—(chlamydia)
How is it diagnosed?
Cat flu is typically diagnosed by a professional recognizing the common symptoms. While feline upper respiratory infections can be caused by these several different pathogens, there are a few symptoms that they have in common.
These symptoms include:
- nasal congestion
- discharge from the nose or eyes
More rare symptoms include:
- not eating
- enlarged lymph nodes
- blepharospasm (squinting)
In extreme cases where symptoms do not subside, veterinarians may run additional tests including chest x-rays, blood tests, or bacterial cultures.
How is it treated?
Cat flu it typically treated at home and is directed at decreasing symptoms. Currently, there are no antiviral drugs to treat cat flu, but antibacterial (antibiotic) drugs can be prescribed if symptoms are long-lasting or more severe. Vets may also prescribe eye drops, pain medication, or antiviral agents to aid the healing process.
If a feline is not showing signs of improvement, more extreme measures can be taken. If the cat is suffering from excessive lethargy or dehydration, veterinarians may recommend hospital stays and the insertion of an intravenous catheter or feeding tube.
Since cat flu treatment is heavily based around relieving symptoms, here are some at-home remedies for cat owners:
- Being in warm, humid air
- If you have a humidifier, place it near where your cat tends to sleep.
- Bringing your cat in the bathroom as you shower to expose them to the steam.
- Gentle face washing
- Since nasal discharge is common, a gentle face wipe can help relieve irritation,
- Strong smelling foods
- Cats with upper respiratory infections often lose their appetites because they can't smell well. Foods such as strong smelling canned food or warmed, soft foods can encourage eating.
- In more extreme cases, an appetite stimulant may be prescribed.
How is it spread?
Cat flu is spread much like human flu is: direct contact with others that are infected. This is generally through saliva, tears, or discharge from the eyes or nose. There is also the possibility of spreading indirectly though contamination via food bowls, bedding, litter, or even human hands. Even after recovery, many cats will remain carriers of the virus and have the potential of spreading it to newly introduced cats.
To reduce the spread, veterinarians recommend vaccination of kittens. If a feline is already infected, it must be isolated from other cats for at least two weeks. All objects touched by the infected cat must be decontaminated, including litter boxes and food bowls. It is also important to wash your hands before and after interacting with your cat.
Misconceptions and Facts
In South Africa the term cat flu is also used to refer to canine parvovirus. This is misleading, as it does not refer to this feline upper respiratory disease but rather refers to the canine parvovirus which mainly infects dogs but can also infect other mammals such as cats, skunks and foxes.
In the 2013 psychological horror film Escape from Tomorrow, there is a fictional strain of cat flu surrounding the Disneyland parks, and according to the Disneyland nurse, "You could be a host and not even know it". The main protagonist Jim later experiences these symptoms in the end of the film, such as constipation, vomiting up massive hairballs and blood, and gradual weakening of his body. Later the next morning, his wife discovers his corpse with cat eyes and a grinning face.
- ^ "Feline Upper Respiratory Infection | VCA Canada Animal Hospitals". VcaCanada. Retrieved 2023-04-22.
- ^ "Feline Upper Respiratory Infection (Cat Flu): What It Is, Signs & Symptoms, And How To Treat It | Trudell Animal Health". www.trudellanimalhealth.com. Retrieved 2023-04-22.
- ^ "What vaccinations should my cat receive? – RSPCA Knowledgebase". Retrieved 2023-04-22.
- ^ Holmes, Edward C.; Parrish, Colin R.; Dubovi, Edward J.; Shearn-Bochsler, Valerie I.; Gerhold, Richard W.; Brown, Justin D.; Fox, Karen A.; Kohler, Dennis J.; Allison, Andrew B. (2013-02-15). "Frequent Cross-Species Transmission of Parvoviruses among Diverse Carnivore Hosts". Journal of Virology. 87 (4): 2342–2347. doi:10.1128/JVI.02428-12. ISSN 0022-538X. PMC 3571474. PMID 23221559