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Home > Cats > Can You Catch a Cold From a Cat? Here’s What Science Says

Can You Catch a Cold From a Cat? Here’s What Science Says

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If your feline has a runny nose and is coughing and sneezing, it may have a cold.

Cats experience similar effects from colds as humans, but can cats give you their cold? The good news is that your cat cannot spread its cold to you, so you can’t catch it. However, there are some diseases that people can catch from cats.


Can Cats Get Colds?

Cats can get colds 1 (or upper respiratory tract infections) like us humans. However, although the cold-like symptoms your cat will show are similar to what you would suffer from, they are caused by different viruses. Upper respiratory tract infections are very common in cats, but cats can’t give them to us, and we can’t give them to cats.

How Do Cats Get Colds?

Colds are highly contagious in cats and people and spread similarly. Cats will quickly spread a cold between themselves, as viruses and bacteria can be spread via droplets launched by coughs and sneezes. Allogrooming also spreads colds between cats incredibly easily, as does close physical contact. Cats can pick up colds around other cats, such as in catteries, boarding houses, and multi-cat households.

Blurred of a older brown cat with runny noses
Image By: RJ22, Shutterstock

How Will I Know If My Cat Has a Cold?

A cat with a cold will show similar signs of illness as people would. There are physical signs and behavioral changes that can indicate a cold, but the signs can differ from case to case (and from cat to cat) depending on the cause of the cold. If your cat displays troubling signs, take them to the vet immediately for more investigation and treatment.

Common signs of a cold (an upper respiratory tract infection) in cats include:

  • Discharge from the eyes
  • Snotty nose
  • Congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Inappetence
  • Lethargy

Some common behavioral signs a cat with a cold can display include the following:

  • Hiding away
  • Poor grooming
  • Pawing at mouth or nose
  • Being grumpy or irritable


What Causes an Upper Respiratory Tract Infection in Cats?

There are many causes of upper respiratory infections 2 in cats. The most common in cats are viruses, namely the feline herpes virus type 1 (feline rhinotracheitis) and feline calicivirus.

Cats can also catch bacterial infections that can cause or contribute to a cold, such as Bordetella bronchiseptica and Chlamydophila felis. However, viruses are by far the most common pathogens that can cause a cold in cats; 90% of all upper respiratory infections in cats are caused by either feline rhinotracheitis or feline calicivirus.

What Is Cat Flu?

Cat flu is the common name for a feline upper respiratory infection. It is more commonly used than the name cat colds even though it is not caused by an influenza virus. There are vaccines available against cat flu – mainly feline herpes virus and feline calicivirus. Talk to your vet about the options available for your cat. Upper respiratory infections can be serious, particularly for young kittens and older cats or those with other health issues.

fluffy ginger cat lying on the ground
Image By: Ludemeula Fernandes, Unsplash

Can People Spread Cat Colds or Give Colds to Cats?

People can’t give cats their colds, as the pathogens that cause them aren’t able to cross from us to our cats. So, for example, if you had a cold and sneezed next to your cat, it would not be at risk of getting sick because the (probable) virus can’t infect the cat’s body.

However, people can spread cat colds from one cat to another. We can spread the pathogens that cause cat colds on our hands and clothes if we touch or handle cats or objects a cat has interacted with. For example, if any mucus or secretions from a cat with a cold gets onto your hands, you can spread the cold to other cats you come into contact with by stroking them.

Handwashing is very important while looking after a cat with a cold for this reason! Bowls, beds, and toys can also transmit and spread cat colds, so washing them thoroughly and ensuring your cats don’t share them is key.

Can I Catch a Cold From My Cat?

Thankfully, you can’t catch a cold from your cat as the viruses that cause the upper respiratory tract infections are not zoonotic, meaning they can’t be spread between humans and animals. Cats are known to very occasionally carry some viruses that they can pass onto humans, which cause cold-like symptoms, but the types that can be transferred are very specific and rare.

For example, the CDC documented one case 3 of a specific strain of avian influenza (bird flu), which was passed between a cat and a person. However, that is incredibly rare, and the case was only documented in one shelter in New York City. The bird flu was spread between a cat and a shelter worker via direct, prolonged contact with mucosal secretions.

Some bacterial causes of cat colds such as chlamydia and bordetella can very occasionally be passed onto people so make sure you wash your hands and avoid letting cats rub your face if they are suffering .

However in almost all cases of colds, you won’t be able to receive or give one to your cat!

sick cat covered in blanket lies on the window in winter
Image Credit: Germanova Antonina, Shutterstock

Can People Catch Any Illnesses From Their Cats?

Unfortunately, there are illnesses that people can catch from cats. The most commonly known of these is toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is spread to people via contact with infected feces, making it unlikely to be spread from direct contact with cats.

However, toxoplasmosis can be very dangerous for immunocompromised people or pregnant women. Most Toxoplasmosis infections show no symptoms but can cause chills and fever, muscle cramps, confusion, and seizures in those infected.

Cats can give people Giardia, but it’s also spread mainly by contact with infected feces. Giardia is an intestinal parasite that can cause extreme vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea.


Final Thoughts

Cats can catch colds just like we do. But, while the effects your cat might suffer when they catch a cold are very similar to ours, the viruses and bacteria that cause them are different. Cats cannot spread their colds to people, and people can’t give their colds to their cats. If your cat has the sniffles, it’s a good idea to wash your hands after fussing them and avoiding letting them rub around your face. Otherwise you can give them all the TLC they need!

Cat colds are highly contagious between our feline friends though, and easily spread from cat to cat. So if your cat has a cold ensure you’re washing your hands thoroughly and keeping the environment clean to prevent any spread.

Featured Image Credit: stokerolga, Shutterstock

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