Cat Flu & Humans

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If you cat has the flu, keep him isolated from other cats to prevent spread of the disease.
If you cat has the flu, keep him isolated from other cats to prevent spread of the disease. (Image: tenvongten/iStock/Getty Images)

Your cat can get the flu, or an upper respiratory infection, that has similar symptoms to the flu that humans experience. However, you cannot give your flu to your cat, nor can she transmit her form of flu to you.

Zoonotic Illness

While cat flu is not zoonotic -- a disease that can be transmitted from another species to humans -- cats do carry diseases that can infect you and your family. Some of these diseases include tuberculosis, lyme disease, ringworm, hookworm, hantavirus and rabies.

Most human flu cases are caused by human influenza A and B viruses. People rarely contract the flu from animals; however, in rare cases, flu viruses from pigs, chickens, ducks and seals have infected humans, according to the World Health Organization.

Although cat flu has symptoms similar to those of human flu, it is not caused by the influenza virus but by by two other viruses: feline calici virus and feline herpes virus.

Cat Flu Symptoms

Symptoms of feline flu include runny eyes, nasal discharge, sneezing, loss of appetite, enlarged glands and fever. If the flu is caused by feline calici virus, your cat may develop gingivitis, mouth ulcers and arthritis symptoms. Feline herpes virus causes more severe symptoms and can cause ulcers on a cat's cornea, inflammation of the trachea and coughing. Untreated, your cat's flu can develop into pneumonia.

Veterinary Diagnosis

If you observe symptoms of the flu, take your cat to a veterinarian for treatment. Your vet will confirm flu by obvserving the symptoms and ruling out other potential causes. In some cases, the vet may test for the presence of the viruses that cause the flu by swabbing your cat's mouth or eye.

Treatment Options

Although there is no direct treatment for the viruses that cause cat flu, your vet may provide treatment options to support his recovery. If your cat has a secondary bacterial infection such as Bordetella bronchiseptica or Chlamydophila felis, the vet may prescribe antibiotics. Having your cat breathe steam may help loosen nasal blockage and clear his nose. Soft food may be more palatable and easier for your cat to eat during recovery.

In extreme cases, a cat may need a feeding tube or IV fluids to maintain his nutrition and hydration.

Transmission and Prevention

The viruses that cause cat flu are airborne, although most transmission occurs through direct contact between cats. If your cat's flu is caused by feline herpes virus, he will continue to be a carrier of the virus, even after he has fully recovered.

Vaccinations for both viruses are available and recommended for all cats. Keep sick cats separated, and disinfect all surfaces in the rooms where the cat is kept.

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