Cats can suffer from a viral infection that causes a raised temperature, snuffly nose and other flu-like symptoms but we can help to ease the situation for them.
It seems there have been more people than ever this winter affected by a nasty heavy cold or flu bug. Of course most of us get better after a week or two and it is the elderly or vulnerable that may require hospitalisation if things take a turn for the worse.
When we are ill we can tell someone how miserable we are feeling or where it hurts but our felines can’t really do that. As owners it is our responsibility to notice when they seem to be under the weather and monitor their condition to see how it progresses. Having a blocked up nose and stinging, watery eyes can be really difficult for us to cope with, let alone a cat – so what should we look out for?
The symptoms of an upper respiratory infection include some or all of the following:
- a fever that eases and worsens, similar to human flu
- a blocked nose, affecting the cats sense of taste and, more importantly, smell
- watery discharge from eyes and nose which may become thick and sticky
- increased sleep and lethargy
- ulcers on the tongue and inflamed gums
- possible soreness in the joints
If a cat is unable to smell its food it is unlikely to want to eat it and a blocked nose may also make it difficult for a cat to drink. A lack of fluids can lead to dehydration.
When is it cat flu?
Cat flu is generally caused by a virus, the first signs being a watery discharge from the eyes and nose. The cat may have a raised temperature and seem rather out of sorts.
Non-steroid, anti-inflammatory drugs can be administered that will return the temperature to near normal and relieve any joint pain. The cat will feel much better and should be happy to eat and drink.
Unfortunately the initial viral infection lowers the cat’s immunity and secondary bacterial infections can become established. This is often when the discharge from the eyes and nose becomes thick and sticky. This is not pleasant for the cat’s owner and the sick cat will be feeling quite unwell.
At this point antibiotics can help to speed the recovery time from the secondary infection. They will have no affect on the initial viral infection. If at any time you are worried about your cat’s health or condition you should consult your vet, either over the phone for advice or by way of a surgery appointment.
Clear the nose – blocked nostrils will hinder the cat’s ability to smell and taste its food and it may not want to eat. Bathing away the discharge will certainly help clear the airwaves but many cats will not allow an owner to do this. In that case, try applying vapour rub or similar to a cloth and place it close to where the cat sleeps. You could also encourage your cat to spend some time in the bathroom while you run a bath or take a shower as the steam will also relieve the blockage caused by the mucus.
Bathing eyes – the initial watery discharge will run away site easily but a thicker discharge, caused by a secondary infection or conjunctivitis, will become like glue and make the cat feel quite miserable. Try to gently bathe the eye area and clean it with a piece of cotton wool moistened with warm water, a saline solution purchased from your vet or cold tea (with milk is ok but do not use if sugar has been added).
Temperature – if your cat seems feverish, reduce the amount of bedding he has and wipe with a cool cloth, even perhaps in a cool bath. This should bring his body temperature back to normal. Some cats like to lie on a iced floor to cool themselves down. If the miseries of a cold or flu virus mean your cat won’t eat, try warming wet food to increase the smell and hopefully make it more appealing; offer something very smelly such as pilchards or sardines; put just a small amount of food in the bowl so the cat is not overwhelmed by a big meal; mash wet food to get rid of lumps; feed by hand. Little and often may be the key.
Water – Wet or liquid food will help your cat to take in some fluids even if he won’t drink water directly from his bowl. If your cat is used to drinking milk then offer this to him. Again, little and often is the best policy. Going to the toilet – if your cat is used to doing his business outside, now is not the time to try to introduce a litter tray indoors. You may have to take him outside and supervise him then bring him back indoors when he has finished. A cat that does use an indoor litter tray, even if only sometimes, will probably be happy to do so while he is feeling unwell. This is something you will have to gauge for yourself and be led by your cat.
It is likely that your cat will soon be on the road to recovery but any sudden deterioration in your cat’s condition or any concern on your behalf should be mentioned to the vet as soon as possible, at least by way of a phone call. Many veterinary nurses and receptionists are able to advise you in these circumstances without the need to involve the veterinary surgeon.