The No. 1 Sign Your Cat Has a Cold, According to Vets

Most pet owners can agree that there's nothing worst than seeing their furry friend in pain. Whether your dog needs emergency surgery, your cat has a kidney infection, or your fish is looking a little lethargic, a pet's health issues can be just as stressful for you as they are for them. That applies to smaller illnesses, too. For example, a cat cold. Not sure what that is? Fear not. Ahead, veterinarians tell us the top sign your cat may have a cold (and what, exactly, that means). Read on for easy ways to help your kitty feel more comfortable and how to know when it's time to visit your vet.

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What does it mean for a cat to have a cold?

You probably know what it's like to have a cold as a human. Your nose gets stuffy, your eyes get watery, you feel lethargic, and maybe you even pick up a cough or sneeze. Turns out, it's a similar deal for cats. "Just like people, cats can catch colds and go through symptoms such as a runny nose, constant sneezing, mild fever, and dehydration, among others," says Sabrina Kong, DVM, a veterinarian in Northern California.

Kitties pass around these colds in a similar way as humans, too. "Cats can get a cold through exposure to a virus or bacteria," says Kong. "Outdoor cats are much more prone to catching colds than indoor cats due to their frequent interactions with other cats." These illnesses are also seen more frequently in places with many cats, such as boarding facilities and shelters. There, the colds can be transmitted via direct contact with infected cats as well as with infected items, such as food and water bowls, litter boxes, and toys. Similar to humans, cats without symptoms can transmit cat colds.

It's also worth noting that there's a difference between a cat cold and the cat flu, also called feline viral rhinotracheitis. "In regard to the flu, your cat will need special attention," says Amanda Nascimento, DVM, a veterinarian at NHV Natural Pet. "Once infected, the animal becomes a carrier of the virus for life, which can remain dormant and return to cause symptoms during periods of stress and weakened immunity. In tiny kittens, elderly kitties, and cats with chronic or immunosuppressive diseases, such as FIV and FELV, the disease can develop into a severe and even fatal form."

This is the top sign your cat has a cold.

When you have a cold, you likely deviate from your daily routine. Instead of hopping out of bed at 7 a.m., you may sleep in until noon. And instead of sticking to meals like grilled salmon and salads, you may switch to comfort foods like chicken noodle soup and hot tea with honey. Well, your cat will do the same.

"The most common sign your cat has a cold or is feeling under the weather is when there's an abrupt change in their behavior," says Kong. "For example, if you have a playful and energetic cat that, all of [a] sudden, seems lethargic and no longer has a desire to play with you or other animals, that's a very clear sign something is wrong." There are other key symptoms to be on the lookout for if you suspect your cat may have a cold, too.

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Watery eyes and a runny nose are also symptoms.

If you think your cat may have a cold, you'll want to inspect their eyes and nose. "The classic eye sign is one or more of the cat's eyes squinting, potentially with watery discharge or redness," says Patrik Holmboe, head veterinarian for Cooper Pet Care. "Nasal symptoms are like [the] human flu: first, you hear the classic sniffles and sneezing, progressing to watery discharge."

In more severe cases, a cat's eye and nose discharge can become thick and creamy. Other symptoms could include low appetite, fever, or difficulty breathing.

Contact your vet if you suspect your cat has a cold.

In most cases, cat colds are nothing to worry about and will resolve on their own within a few days. However, colds can lead to secondary infections, such as pneumonia, that could become serious. As with human colds, the illness is more worrisome for young and old cats, says Holmboe. To be safe, you'll want to schedule a vet exam if you suspect your cat has a cold.

"While it may be a mild cold, it could be something more serious," says Liz Ewing, a veterinary assistant at Heal House Call Veterinarian. "There are multiple conditions that share these same symptoms that are far more serious." Your vet will be able to assess your cat for those issues and ensure their cold will be able to improve on its own.

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And keep your kitty comfortable like this.

Your cat may have cold symptoms for a few days—and you'll want to make them as comfortable as possible. To do so, Kong recommends increasing the humidity in your house with a humidifier or vaporizer. "By doing this, you can help ease your cat's symptoms and reduce their nasal congestion," she says.

If your cat has a low appetite, it could be because they're having difficulty smelling their food. "The best option to combat this is to try particularly hard to tempt the cat to eat," says Holmboe. "Try hand-feeding often, buy some gourmet, strong-smelling wet foods, and even try microwaving the food a little bit to make it more smelly." Your cat will need the energy from its food to fight its cold.

The last thing you can do to keep your cat comfortable is to keep them clean. "By using a clean damp cloth, you can clear their nose and eyes of discharge," says Ewing. "If there are hard crusties, you can use the damp cloth and hold it on there to break up the crust." That way, your cat will be able to ride out its cold in a stress-free, comfy environment.