Oxfordshire Branch

Cat flu - What to look out for, and the importance of vaccination

Cat flu is the common name for a highly contagious upper respiratory disease that affects the health of cats and kittens. Just like with human flu it can be caused by one or more viruses, most often Feline Herpes 1 (FHV1) and Feline Calicivirus (FVC). Unlike human flu, people can’t catch it, and people cannot pass human flu to their cats.

Common symptoms of cat flu

Be on the lookout for any of the following symptoms. And bear in mind that there is no specific cat flu season, but it can brought on by periods of stress…

  • Sneezing
  • Discharge from the nose and or eyes
  • Breathing problems
  • Open mouthed breathing
  • Coughing
  • Squinting
  • Swollen eyes
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sore mouth or tongue
  • Fever

The RSPCA and other pet care organisations encourage owners to get to know their cats’ normal demeanour, look and temperature, so you can identify changes quickly. For example, some of these symptoms may be caused by hay fever or other allergies.

TIP: You can check the temperature by using a digital thermometer that cannot penetrate too far into the ear. A warm, dry nose DOES NOT indicate a fever. A normal temperature ranges from 38.1¿C to 39.2¿C (100.5¿ to 102.5¿ Fahrenheit).

How to treat cat flu

As cat flu is a virus, there is no direct cure, so treatment aims to relieve the suffering from symptoms while the body fights the infection. Sadly, this fight can all too often overcome cats who are very young, older or who have a weakened system from other illness or injury.

Vets can provide pain medication, anti-viral meds, eye drops and antibiotics if any bacterial infections arise. In severe cases your cat may require an intravenous drip for hydration, so please contact your vet as soon as you suspect cat flu. They may also alert the local community and other veterinary surgeries in case owners need to keep cats in doors.

If your cat has the above symptoms, or is diagnosed with cat flu, please isolate them from other cats, keep them indoors and separate their feeding stations and bedding, ensuring these items are also washed separately.

Will my cat always carry the cat flu virus?

Unfortunately, yes. Viruses never leave the system and can flare up again in times of stress or illness, such as moving house or boarding. The virus can also be spread to other cats at stressful times, so you must always advise the cattery or boarding kennel if you ever intend to use one.

It stands to reason that the best way to avoid illness from cat flu is to protect against it with vaccination. Kittens can begin a course of cat flu vaccination from eight weeks of age, with booster vaccines given throughout their lives.

Please check with the person from whom you obtain your kitten or cat that they have a clean bill of health and full vaccination record.