When you hear the words “cat flu,” you probably imagine a serious viral infection that causes fever, sweating, and fatigue.
The cat flu, in fact, isn’t a strain of influenza at all!
Here’s what you need to know about this common but usually mild illness in cats.
What is the Cat Flu?
“The cat flu” is actually an upper respiratory infection in cats that’s caused by one of two viruses: feline herpes (FHV) or feline calicivirus (FCV). It got its name because the symptoms of both afflictions mimic the same symptoms humans have when we come down with the flu.
Sidenote: Cats can actually get the flu – influenza – but it’s pretty uncommon.
Does Your Cat Have the Cat Flu?
The primary symptoms of cat flu are the same as a lot of other viral illnesses. If you notice sneezing, coughing, puffy eyes, fever, general lethargy, or discharge of the nose or eyes, your cat might have “the cat flu.” The more symptoms she’s displaying, the more likely the diagnosis.
Another symptom to watch for is decreased appetite caused by uncomfortable lesions on the tongue. If lesions like these appear (on the tongue or on the skin), feline herpes-1 virus could be to blame.
Didn’t My Cat Get Vaccinated for Those Viruses?
If you’re up to date on your feline vaccinations, probably! Unfortunately vaccinations don’t cover every single strain of a virus, so your cat could still contract a less-common form of a highly common virus.
Cats who often come into contact with other cats are most at risk. Young cats and old cats with weakened immune systems are also at an elevated risk of viral infection. And don’t forget: Some cats are actually born with feline herpes virus (thanks, mom or dad!) and symptoms can take a while to show.
How Can I Treat the Cat Flu?
Unfortunately, viral infections can’t be “treated.” The goal is to make your cat as comfortable as possible while the virus runs its course. You should be sure to give your cat plenty of water while she’s healing, and encourage lots of rest. You may want to heat or moisten her food for her if she shows disinterest in eating. It’s also not a bad idea to bring a humidifier into her room if she’ll tolerate it as this can help her breathe easier.
If you suspect your cat has the cat flu, you should still reach out to your vet. In some cases, viral infections can take a significant toll on your cat’s body; your vet will want to examine her to be sure she’s headed in the right direction. He might also suggest an antibiotic to ward off any secondary infections that will use your cat’s compromised state as the ideal time to attack.
Remember that cats are stoic bordering on statuesque. Even if they’re sick, they don’t usually show it! If you notice your cat’s been acting “off” lately, it might be worth putting in a call to the vet just to be sure.