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Hachoo! Cat Flu!

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Hachoo! Atchoo! Atishoo and Ahem!

Yep, it’s that time of year again when daily temperatures vary a lot and nights get pretty chilly. And just like us two-legged folk, with our gorgeous dripping noses and sultry-sounding sore throats, cats can get a bit under the weather too.

Feline upper respiratory infections (i.e. colds) are among the most common cat diseases. They can be highly contagious because they are airborne and have an average incubation period of 3-7 days, which means that you will not immediately know that your cat has the flu and, importantly, that she's also spreading it around! When you do start to see symptoms, they'll look like this: watery eyes and nose, congested breathing and, of course, sneezing. And just as with us humans, so too with cats: they will often have a fever and will sometimes experience a lack of appetite and become lethargic.

The causes of the flu are mainly viral but can be bacterial, and sometimes the illness is made worse by secondary bacterial infection. So, a lot like you when you are coughing and spluttering, there is medication to help kitty feel better until she gets rid of the infection herself. And just as when you get the flu, sometimes antibiotics are needed to combat any bacteria that may be involved.

The yearly cat vaccine provides protection against the most common viral causes of the flu but certainly does not guarantee that your cat will not get ill. Certainly, if your cat has been vaccinated and does contract the flu, her symptoms and disease will be less severe. As there are SOOOO many causes of the flu in cats, it is practically impossible to protect her completely with vaccination... similar to the situation we see with the human flu vaccine. These viruses can be present anywhere and travel significant distances, so in fact ANY cat, even indoor stay-at-home cats, can catch cat flu. Of course it's absolutely true, too, that catching a cold is more likely where there are many cats around, such as at boarding facilities (catteries), shelters, grooming parlours, veterinary clinics, homes with many cats... in this respect, such places are very similar to the kindergarten or school environments to which you send your children, especially if your kitty is not used to these environments and therefore likely has a less resistant immune system.

In the end, no amount of supervision or cleaning can prevent your cat from catching an airborne disease. There is no foolproof protection - it just doesn't exist. Our only real recourse is to be carefully observant of symptoms in our kitties so that we can turn to our vet when needed.

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