No matter how clean your home is or how careful you are, tiny viruses and bacteria somehow find a way in. Your cats are just as vulnerable to catching ill from microscopic invaders, and can share germs even though they may not willingly share anything else.
Various virus and bacteria strains like to call your cat home, and will willingly do so for as long as they possibly can. Viral infections, caused by the herpes- or calicivirus, typically run their course in one or two weeks. Bacterial infections, on the other hand, caused by Mycoplasma, Bordetella or Chlamydia microbes, typically require antibiotics to eliminate them and start healing. These infectious organisms spread through sneezes, various eye or nose discharges or saliva, meaning that Mr. Fuzzybottom can infect Miss Prissy through a shared food or water bowl, or by social grooming. It's possible for the housemates to pass an illness back and forth, depending on the strain of virus or bacteria.
Because your cats can't tell you when they feel sick, it's hard to decipher when a sneeze isn't just a nose full of cat litter dust. Just about all the illnesses caused by the most common viruses and bacteria share symptoms, including sneezing and runny eyes or nose. Your cats may seem more tired than usual and spend a larger portion of the day resting as their immune systems attempt to oust the invading organism. If you want to keep your non-infected cat healthy, it's best to quarantine the sick kitty to his own room for a week or two until his symptoms disappear.
Share And Share Alike
Popular belief is that you cannot catch the same cold twice because your body builds immunity during the previous battle. This isn't entirely true, as you can catch the same virus but the second -- or third -- time around is typically less severe than the first, as your system has a head start fighting it off. The same holds true for cats, who can very easily pass the same virus back and forth as they share food and water bowls, sneeze nearby or spend a little quality time grooming each other. Not to mention that these nasty microbes tend to mutate into a different strain, which can cause a new infection and make your cat's body start all over in the fight for health.
When To Worry
As with human colds, in most cases your cats just need time and rest to kick the bug in their systems. But sometimes a simple cold can develop into something more substantial, such as an upper respiratory infection. Watch your cats' symptoms and call your vet if they seem to worsen, or if more symptoms appear such as lethargy or a gagging cough. Cats generally don't like to eat if they can't smell, so a prolonged illness may prevent them from eating for days at a time, which can weaken their immune system and cause their illness to worsen. If your cats seem a little too under the weather, call your vet for advice.
When cold symptoms appear, the best treatment is to leave your cats alone to rest. Offer plenty of fresh water and warm up some moist food to encourage them to keep eating. Wipe any discharge from their faces with a warm washcloth and wash shared bowls with hot, soapy water to minimize virus and bacteria spreading. Do not give them over-the-counter human medications, and instead call your vet for guidance to keep your kitties comfortable. Depending on the severity of their symptoms and their specific illness, they may need antibiotics or professional medical assistance to stay hydrated and curb the lifespan of the invading microbe.
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