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Cat Colds & Curing Kitty Congestion

by | Jan 21, 2022 | Ask Amy Videos, Cat Behavior & Care | 31 comments

When cats have the sniffles, you worry about curing kitty congestion. Cat colds are one of the most common health problems of kittens and adult cats. Feline upper respiratory diseases, sometimes called cat flu, often affect shelter and rescue cats. My cat Seren-Kitty also had a couple of severe bouts with kitty snorkles.

For more information about cat colds and dog coughs, see this post.

So far, Karma-Kat has only had sneeze-attacks one time. I’m always alert to any change in behavior, so even a normal amount of A-CHOO makes me pay attention.

I also recorded this post on YouTube if you’d prefer:

While there are preventive vaccinations available to help protect your cats, many kittens and cats become infected very early before they receive vaccines. Once infected, a cat may develop sniffles any time they become stressed. These tips can help relieve the sniffles and cat cold problems.

cat colds

Cat Colds & Curing Kitty Congestion

Has the annual outbreak of flu, sinus infections, and general creeping-crud attacked you this season? Hopefully, you’re safe from the COVID-19 virus that causes similar symptoms in people. Thankfully, the COVID virus and variants don’t routinely cause cat flu symptoms.

I’m washing my hands constantly and staying home with the fur-kids as much as possible. That’s one more positive about working alone at home–less contact with contagious folks. I’ve been told that the flu vaccination (always a good thing!) works well when given in advance, but of course, that depends on the type of flu. The dang bug keeps changing. *sigh*

A stopped-up nose and crusty eyes are not only miserable for humans, these signs in cats also cause a wide range of health problems in cats. Discharge that’s runny and clear usually goes away in a couple of days by itself. But any time it continues longer than that, or the discharge is cloudy or thick and clogs up the eyes or nose, a virus could be the culprit. Upper respiratory infections in cats (URI) also cause mouth and eye sores.

Complications of Cat Colds

Cats have more problems with congestion than dogs. The bugs that cause kitty congestion usually aren’t lethal in adult cats. But cats won’t eat unless they can smell their food, so they starve if they get a stopped-up nose. Home care not only keeps pets more comfortable, it often decides whether they recover or not. Learn how to encourage sick pets to eat in this post.

While we often fall in love with that poor little sick shelter kitten, an upper respiratory infection (cat cold) as a baby could mean relapses for the rest of the cat’s life. Just be sure you’re aware of all the facts when you adopt your kitten. 

Curing Kitty Congestion from Cat Colds

Just like with people, there’s no real “cure” for colds, but supportive treatment can help speed up recovery. It’s important for the comfort of your cat, too.

  1. Use a vaporizer to help unclog the nose. Put your cat in a fairly small room with a cool-mist humidifier and use it just the same as you would for a child a couple of times a day. That not only helps break up the congestion, it moistens inflamed or tender eyes and nostrils and make them feel better.
  2. If you don’t have a vaporizer or humidifier, a hot shower can work. Take the pet into the bathroom with you and run the hot shower so that the air becomes filled with steam. A 10-minute session several times a day works great. Don’t go for longer than that, though, because heated air for too long can be hard for some pets to breathe, especially short-faced Persians.
  3. If the nose is crusting over, or the eyes are sealing shut, use warm wet cloths or cotton balls to soak and soften the secretions and clean them off. Don’t peel dried matter off, because that can hurt or even form scabs.
  4. To soothe sore tissue after you’ve cleaned off the mucus, dab on a bit of plain saline solution, or some baby oil. That can also make it easier to clean away any more crusts that might form. I’ve also used Udderbalm (for cows).
  5. When thick secretions fill up the lungs it can be hard for pets to breathe even when their nostrils are clear. A technique called coupage helps break up the clogged matter so the pet can clear his lungs. It’s a French word meaning “thumping on the chest” and is often used to help children with Cystic Fibrosis breathe more easily. Hold your hand in a cupped position, and gently thump on either side of the cat or dog’s rib cage to break loose the mucus. Use coupage two or three times a day along with humidified air to ease the pet’s congestion.

FOLLOW-UP CARE FOR CAT COLDS

Refusing to eat can make cats sicker or even threaten their life. Wiping away the crusts and mucus to keep the nasal passages open helps, but offering pungent and more tempting foods can cut through congestion and spark the sick cat’s appetite.

Warm the food for five seconds in the microwave to just below cat body temperature—about 95 to 98 degrees. That not only makes the treat more alluring, it also unlocks the aroma so the food smells more pungent and penetrates even a stopped-up kitty nose. Moisture also helps enhance aroma, so try adding a bit of warm water, chicken broth, or tuna juice from the can to the cat’s regular food. Run it through the blender to make a mush, and there’s a good chance that will tempt his appetite.

In the past, many veterinarians recommended supplements with L-Lysine to help reduce the chance of URI flare-ups. More recent studies argue these supplements offer only marginal benefits and may even make symptoms from feline herpesvirus worse.  Ask your veterinarian for the latest recommendations. You can ask your vet about an off-label drug Famciclovir that’s shown promise in treating the condition. Meanwhile, supplementing your cat’s diet with a probiotic like Fortiflora can help by keeping digestion healthy.

Have your cats suffered from upper respiratory issues? How did you manage them? When vaccinated early as a baby, some of these bugs can be prevented but once they’re in the cat’s system, stress can cause an outbreak. Cats also are tough customers when it comes to “pilling” and medicating (although compounded medicine can help with that). What are your tips for nursing a sick cat? Please share!

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31 Comments

  1. Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter

    We have rules.

    1) No one furry leaves the house unless leashed
    2) Or is in a carrier
    3) They have to visit that horrible lady in white who pokes & prods them

    So far, this has worked. Mostly. We were doing great until I invited a starving Orange Tabby into the house. Unfortunately he had unwanted friends, who came with him.

    Getting a flea infestation under control isn’t difficult, but it does mean that the dogs, who love sniffing noses with chance met strangers have to be denied that joy till we are certain they are clear. This isn’t something you want to pass along.

    Wayne

    Reply
    • amyshojai

      Very smart rules, Wayne. But that Orange Tabby is worth the work, right? 🙂

      Reply
      • Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter

        Yes, he’s an amazing snuggle-puss. And a great foot warmer.

        He’s the laziest cat we have, now that he’s gotten used to being indoors all the time.

        Wayne

        Reply
  2. Karyl Cunningham

    Anubis has been getting sinus swelling just like momma and daddy this year – weather’s been nasty, pressure changes abound, and apparently he’s as sensitive to them as we are. The fuzzball and I have been pretty miserable this season. LOL

    Reply
    • amyshojai

      It’s been a bad season for allergies here, too.

      Reply
  3. Angela Wallace

    The kitten I adopted back in October had a cold when we brought her home. Pretty much every cat in the adoption shelter had been or was sick. We tried half of the things on the list: humidifier, more enticing foods. We even got syringes (without the needle) and filled them with PediaLite to feed the kitten, but she just kept getting worse until her sides had started caving in. Then it was time to take her back to the adoption center’s vet. Of course, it didn’t help that she wasn’t on the right antibiotics. I don’t understand why vets don’t just jump to the good meds when an infection is so persistent. Poor thing was on antibiotics for 7 weeks before it cleared up, and now she’ll likely have a chronic cough from scarring and possibly develop allergies later. She’s happy and healthy now, but that was a very stressful time for all of us.

    Reply
    • amyshojai

      Oh Angela, so sorry she (and you!) went through this, and glad she’s better. The thing is with the “cat colds” there are several different infectious agents that cause them–alone or in combination. If it’s a virus (most common), antibiotics don’t help, but sometimes secondary infections with bacteria complicate the situation. Paws crossed she’ll be healthy and happy from now on!

      Reply
  4. donnagalanti

    Amy, a much needed post this time of year. I had never heard of coupage- but good to know. Our indoor kitties never get sick, thank goodness but my cat prior would get the “crusties”. I’m glad I have you as a resource if if happens again.

    Reply
    • amyshojai

      I’ve been fortunate with Seren, too. Indoor kitties are less exposed of course, but as Wayne mentions in his post, anytime a kitty newcomer enters the house there’s a chance of bringing in bugs.

      Reply
      • Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter

        Yep. And any time one of the animals has contact with another animal outside the house, there’s the chance of picking up bugs too. You’ve got to be constantly on guard.

        We have a responsibility to protect our furry friends, even when they don’t want you to.

        Wayne

        Reply
  5. Bonnie Pemberton

    Amy..first time on your blog. Awesome. Know you’re not a vet, but both my cats have herpes and constantly sneeze and sniffle with eyes running. Nothing seems to help, not even L-Lysine. Any ideas? The wacky Texas weather doesn’t help. But: HELP!

    Reply
    • amyshojai

      Hi Bonnie, so glad you stopped by! Sorry about the sniffly kitties. A couple of years ago I wrote an article for Catnip after attending Western Vet Conference and interviewing Dr. Michael Lappin and Dr. Elizabeth Rozanski. Has your vet diagnosed it as Herpes? Is the sniffle/runny eyes clear or cloudy? There are so many things that can cause sinusitis and sometimes a secondary infection makes things worse so short term antibiotics from the vet MIGHT help.

      “We don’t know jack about treating viral sinusitis in the cat,” says Dr. Lappin. “Lysine and alpha interferon are unlikely to lead to a cure, but hopefully will lessen clinical signs of disease.” He also said that intranasal administration of modified live, intranasal herpesvirus 1 and calicivirus vaccines may lessen disease in some chronically infected cats.

      As long as the kitties otherwise feel good (eat, not depressed) it’s likely just something they’ll have to live with and more upsetting to the humans than the cats. 🙂 Wish I had better ideas. I’ll be returning to the Western Vet Conference next month to get lots of updates for revising the Purina/Cat Ency so maybe there’s some new info to share soon.

      Reply
  6. Bonnie

    My Maine coon is sneezing and his nose , right side only is running. I have taken him to vet four times this week. He has had antibiotics and is on antihistamines, pill form, I pray the humidifier works as today he won’t eat. Thank you for the advice.

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Hope it resolves soon. Some kitties get something sniffed up their noses…if only one side and the meds don’t work, might be worth a look.

      Reply
  7. Katie Honeycutt

    I recently adopted a cat from the shelter. When I adopted him, they said he had a cold and that it should clear up in a few days. It’s been almost a month and he still has the same symptoms. I’ve tried all the tips except the chest thumping and nothing seems to help. He eats fine and acts like a normal cat for the most part but he’s constantly sniffling and its usually green or yellow. I wouldn’t be worried except for how long its been. Any advice? Thank you!

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Hi Katie, Some cats suffer chronic congestion most of the time. It’s always a good idea to get a veterinarian to take a look. There might be something “percolating” that medication could help such as secondary bacterial infections or even a foreign body snuffled inside the nose. Good luck! And congrats on your new kitty.

      Reply
  8. YULI

    I’m washing my hands constantly and staying home with the fur-kids. That’s one more positive about working alone at home–less contact with contagious folks.

    Reply
  9. CC

    Hi. I realize this is an older article but suggestions please? Have 2 little twin kittens with colds. They’ve been on amoxicillin for about 2 weeks now. Still occasionally sneezing, but at least they’re eating and the discharge from eyes has pretty much stopped. But their lungs still rattle. They’re eating and active. I’m also running a humidifier almost constantly. They run when they see MOmmy come by with a wet warm cloth, guess it doesn’t feel as good to them as you’d think, lol. What can I do for those rattling lungs? and would Vix in the humidifier help open things up or is that a bad idea? oh I did use a very dilute boric acid for the eyes, it did help. Suggestions welcome, the vet fees are becoming outrageous and really it’s not helping, just stressing the little guys out. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Hi CC, I’m sorry your kitties hare having such difficulties. Vics isn’t likely to hurt the cats and may help. I wouldn’t advise putting it directly on them, but in the humidifier, it may help. Good luck!

      Reply
  10. Franklin Steele

    Thank you for even more valuable information. I really look forward to your blog!

    Reply
  11. Colleen Miller

    Thank you for this information, Amy. We recently got a kitten. He is 14 weeks now and the vet is very concerned. ‘Teddy’ has an upper respiratory infection and his snorkles are really bad. He is terribly small too and the vet says he has ‘failure to thrive’. He weighed 1.1 lb at 12 weeks and is 1.26 lbs now. (We have another kitty that was 2.3 lbs at 12 weeks so I am concerned.) The vet gave him a prescription and vitamins. We’ll also do everything you suggested. Thank you for your post.

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Oh Colleen, I hope your baby improves. Teddy is lucky to have been adopted by a family who cares. I’m glad some of the tips help.

      Reply
  12. Kelly M.

    I use a little unflavored coconut oil on my cat’s noses when they start to get crusty. I think it’s more natural and less irritating than baby oil since baby oil has a fragrance. It also works great for rough or cracked paws on dogs too.

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Great idea. Squeezing oil from a Vitamin E capsule also works well for healing.

      Reply
  13. Bliss

    I run a feral cat sanctuary and take in feral kittens during kitten season to socialize them so they can be adopted. This year a herpes outbreak has infected all of them (about 25) and it keeps getting better then coming back. The most prevalent symptom is the conjunctivitis. Lots of weepy eyes. Some crust over but most just weep. I’ve tried 3 different topicals for their eyes and nothing is working. Some are starting to sneeze now so I will be putting in a humidifier to help clear their noses.
    Is there any kind of medicine I can add to the humidifier that would help even more?

    Right now they are all running around on the floor. It looks like they’re having a good time but I’ve been told the virus can be hard to clear if they’re stressed.
    Would it be better to cage them and force them to rest more?

    I will also be starting everyone on famciclovir and FortiFlora. I have penicillin shots, if needed, and they all get B12 shots every week.
    Thanks for your help. 🧡🐱

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Hi Bliss, I’m sorry your kittens struggle with URIs. Those can be hard to kick. It’s likely that as soon as one recovers, others reinfect, and it’s an ongoing circle effect. The humidifier is a good idea, but I wouldn’t add anything to it. Cats are incredibly sensitive to scent, and some things (like Vicks) that work well for people can be TOXIC to cats.

      I also fear that caging them separately would stress them even more. This is a hard situation to manage, and I applaud you for working so hard on their behalf. They may finally recover once in their forever home away from the reinfection potential.

      Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      No, you can’t get the flu from cats, it’s a different illness.

      Reply
  14. Bruce

    thank you for sharing tips and advice, this is very useful

    Reply

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