Has Fluffy been sneezing so much you've been thinking of changing her name to Gesundheit? Have you been tempted to offer a tissue to help with her runny nose? Cat colds are similar to the human flu because they often need a little medical help to recover.
Is She Contagious?
Kitty's ability to infect others depends on who she's sharing space with. If she's living with other cats, then yes, they can pick up her upper respiratory infection. However, you and the rest of her human family are safe. According to WebMD, viruses that attack cats don't affect humans and human viruses don't impact cats. Mar Vista Animal Medical Center notes that though upper respiratory infection in cats is highly contagious, most house cats have a small chance of picking up an infection.
The very contagious herpesvirus and calicivirus account for almost 90 percent of upper respiratory infections in cats. Both viruses have cold-like symptoms, including sneezing and runny eyes and noses. The herpesvirus can also cause significant eye infections. If Fluffy gets vaccinated regularly, chances are she's been vaccinated for these two viruses in her core vaccinations. The vaccination may not keep her from picking up a virus, but will reduce the symptoms she experiences if she does become infected. The herpesvirus can last 18 hours on any surface, and the calicivirus can exist up to 10 days, so if you interact with an infected cat, you can unknowingly bring the virus home with you.
Few upper respiratory infections in cats are caused by bacteria, however if Fluffy develops a bacterial infection, it's likely mycoplasma, bordetella or chlamydia. Mycoplasma and chlamydia share similar symptoms: runny nose, sneezing and conjunctivitis. Bordetella develops into a cough or a gag, as though something is stuck in Fluffy's throat. Of the three, mycoplasma is the most common bacteria that cats contract. There are vaccinations for bordetella and chlamydia, however, they aren't commonly used because they have side effects.
The bacterial infections are usually successfully treated with antibiotics. The more common viral infections often run their course on their own in a week to 10 days. If Fluffy develops a cold, a vaporizer will ease her breathing woes and it's helpful to clean her runny eyes and nose periodically with a moist cotton ball. If she has a severe infection and won't eat, is mouth-breathing or has a fever, she'll need medical attention. An infection that goes too far can result in ulcers in the eyes, nose or mouth, dehydration or other problems. In such cases the vet will often prescribe antibiotics to help keep Fluffy from developing one of the bacterial infections.
Keeping It To Herself
Upper respiratory infections tend to occur in large populations of cats, such as animal shelters or catteries, however it is possible for a house cat to develop a cold. If Fluffy picks one up, keep her away from her healthy housemates during her recuperation. Clean any bedding, bowls or toys that she's shared with her feline friends thoroughly with a diluted solution of bleach and water. You will also have to practice good hygiene and thoroughly wash your hands and change your clothes after handling her. If Fluffy and her housemates are indoor cats, their risk of catching a cold is pretty small.