Cats seek relief from most of the same cat cold symptoms as we do, including watery eyes, a runny nose, fever, sneezing, loss of appetite and a feeling of lethargy. Cat colds typically last from one to four weeks depending on how quickly they’re diagnosed and treated.
When your cat is sneezing a lot and suffering from a runny nose, you can’t give her a spoonful of cold medicine and send her to bed like you’d do for a human. No matter how uncomfortable your cat gets, you should never give her over-the-counter medicines meant for people.
Cat Colds: When to See a Veterinarian
“The most important thing is to bring your cat to the vet for care before you do anything,” says Dr. Rachel Barrack, a licensed veterinarian and certified veterinary acupuncturist.
Dr. Barrack says some more severe symptoms that cat owners should watch out for include difficulty breathing, increased eye or nasal discharge, increased lethargy or a refusal to eat or drink. This is why you should initially make sure to see a vet instead of first trying to treat the problem at home.
“These are all signs that more care is required. It’s easy to think that when your cat has a cold, there’s nothing to worry about, but I think it’s better to err on the side of caution,” says Dr. Barrack. “It’s easier to treat in the early stages.”
So, once you consult with your veterinarian to determine the diagnosis and have gotten a prescription pet medication, you can also supplement treatment with a little TLC. Here are some additional home remedies for cats with colds that can bring comfort when your cat isn’t feeling his best.
Help Your Cat With Grooming
Cats are usually fastidious about grooming themselves, but cats with colds may need your help with hard-to-reach areas. Dr. Carol Osborne, an integrative veterinarian and authority in traditional and alternative veterinary medicine, suggests using a clean, warm, damp washcloth to clean their nasal passages and eyes.
“Gently massage your kitty’s face with a washcloth to clean out his mouth and nose. You can also use an infant’s bulb syringe to wash mucus out of your cat’s nose,” she says. If you use the syringe, be gentle and don’t force it on your cat if he’s uncomfortable.
Can Vitamins and Supplements Help?
It’s unclear on whether or not giving your cat vitamins or trying natural cat cold remedies really can help her kick her cold (Dr. Barrack says she doesn’t use or recommend them), but you can try giving your cat the following items, provided they’ve first been green-lit by your veterinarian:
- Lysine. Just like in humans, once a cat contracts the herpes virus (and the vast majority of cats have herpes dormant in their body), it will remain in her system. Your vet may suggest lysine, an essential amino acid that serves as a building block for proteins, to help inhibit the replication of the virus. Dr. Osborne says the usual dosage is about 500 mg given a few times per day. She prefers a gel formula since pills can be a challenge to administer to cats. Most treats containing lysine do not contain enough and would require too many treats to be effective.
- Vitamin C and apple cider vinegar are commonly discussed on the internet, but are not recommended by veterinarians to treat cats with colds.
Turn Up the Heat
Cats are not generally known for being aquatic creatures, but getting them to spend five to ten minutes a in a hot, steamy bathroom can help open their airways. When you shower, you can also bring your cat into the bathroom.
“Cats can be finicky, so you don’t want to stress them out with at-home remedies, but if you can get your cat to hang out in a steamy bathroom, that can help open nasal passages while fighting infection,” Dr. Barrack says.
Dr. Osborne suggests having your kitty sit adjacent to a humidifier. “Try for 30 minutes a day for two or three days. It helps relieve congestion just like in newborn babies,” she says.
Cats love to cuddle up against warm surfaces, so a cat heated bed or heating pad would seem like a logical choice to soothe her when she’s under the weather. However, Dr. Barrack advises owners to use heating pads with caution and care. “It’s important to regulate the temperature so your cat doesn’t get burned. The skin on their paws and belly are the most sensitive.”
Heating pads can quickly cause burns. Instead, Dr. Osborne suggests wrapping a few blankets or gloves filled with warm water around your kitty to keep her warm.
Keep an Eye on Food and Water Bowl Levels
When your kitty is congested, she can lose her sense of smell, which can result in a loss of appetite. Dr. Osborne says you may be able to entice your kitty to eat with special treats such as a teaspoon of tuna, sardine juice, raw liver or chicken baby food with no onions.
Dr. Barrack says a little extra preparation may also help. “If your cat is reluctant to eat, you can soak dry food in water or warm up canned food to slightly more than room temperature. It may make it more palatable and enticing to eat because it brings out the natural odors of the food,” Dr. Barrack says.
Monitoring your cat’s hydration level is also extremely important. You can get an estimate on how hydrated she is by gently pinching the neck at the spot where a mother cat would pick up her kitten and holding it up for five seconds, Dr. Osborne says. It should snap back to its original position in less than a second. Most vets estimate 3 to 5 percent dehydration for each extra second it takes to return to its original position. Dehydration levels above 5 percent are considered worthy of a trip to the vet.
Another way to measure hydration is to check your cat’s gums. They should be a soft pink color, and wet and slippery (like a human’s gums). “If your cat’s gums are red or pale, and they feel tacky or sticky on your finger, then your cat is dehydrated,” Dr. Osborne says, adding that at-home cat cold remedies should be used only as supportive measures.
“[If you believe your cat is dehydrated] you should see your vet to prevent secondary issues such as bacterial pneumonia. It’s also important to make sure your cat is urinating and defecating. Diarrhea leads to further dehydration,” she says.
Why Cats Get Colds
Cats can get both viral and bacterial sicknesses, with the feline herpesvirus (which can cause eye ulcers) and the feline calicivirus (which can cause oral ulcers) being responsible for 95 percent of cat colds, Dr. Osborne says. “[Cat colds] can also be caused by a combination of viruses and whatever other bacteria happens to come around your cat.”
Cats are also sensitive to change, so if your kitty is feeling stressed out over something like recuperating from being spayed or neutered, being boarded or a change of residence, her immune system may be weakened, which can trigger a cold.
Using Lysine 5 to 7 days prior to any stressful events may be helpful in boosting the immune system and lessening the risk of upper respiratory infections following these events.
Dr. Barrack says that although cats can’t spread the virus to people, they can spread it to other cats.
By Katherine Tolford
Image via iStock.com/takashikiji