Cat Flu Myths and Misconceptions

Cat fluis a common but easily preventable disease. This article will debunk some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding the condition and offer facts and pointers to help you take care of your cat in order to avoid a flu infection, as well as keeping him or her fit and healthy.

1. Cat flu is caused by the influenza virus

FALSE: “Cat flu” is the general name given to a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract in cats. It is most commonly caused by the Feline Herpes Virus-1 (FHV-1), or Feline Calicivirus (FCV). Human flu is quite different. While there are potentially hundreds of viruses which can cause a human cold- only influenza viruses (types A, B or C) cause human flu.

2. Cats can catch flu from their flu vaccination

FALSE: The flu vaccine given routinely as part of your cat’s annual vaccination programme will protect him or her against the two common viruses that cause the disease. The vaccines contain either dead viruses or modified live viruses- neither of which can cause your cat to develop flu.

3. Cats can pass on the flu virus before they become sick

TRUE: Infected cats release viruses in their saliva, tears, nasal secretions, and even urine and faeces before they show any signs of illhealth. Some healthy cats are also carriers of the viruses. Carriers do not suffer from the disease but they can shed virus particles that go on to infect other cats. Cat flu is highly contagious to other cats.

4. Cats have to get very close to other cats to catch flu

FALSE: The viruses which cause cat flu can survive in most environments for up to a week, so a cat does not even have to come into contact with another cat to catch flu. It can be easily spread by contact with infected bedding, water or food bowls, as well as rubbing posts, litter trays and even on the clothes and hands of people who have touched an infected cat. Good hygiene precautions are therefore essential to prevent the spread of disease.

5. Only kittens and elderly cats need vaccinating against cat flu

FALSE: Cat flu can affect cats of all ages, and therefore every cat requires a vaccination to help prevent disease. Cat flu is not usually life threatening in adult cats, although they can become very ill. It can be deadly to kittens, elderly cats and those with an impaired immune system. Newborn kittens initially get some immunity from their mothers but, as they get older, this weakens and they become susceptible to the infection. Two doses of vaccine are needed initially, followed by regular boosters.

6. Antibiotics are the best treatment for flu

FALSE: Antibiotics are not effective for treating viral infections so cannot attack the viruses which cause cat flu- and as there are no effective antiviral drugs in common use, the main treatment for cat flu is symptomatic to keep your cat comfortable and eating. In some cases, antibiotics may be helpful because, just as in human flu, once the flu virus has damaged the lining of the nose and airways, secondary bacterial infections can occur causing complications.

7. Humans can catch flu from their cats and vice versa

TRUE AND FALSE: The viruses which cause cat flu cannot infect humans. You cannot catch flu from your cat, but your cat could catch some forms of flu from you. There are a few reports of certain flu viruses (e.g. H1N1- the “swine flu” virus) passing from humans to their pet cats. The best way to avoid transmission is with good personal hygiene and regular hand washing.

8. Cat flu isn’t serious- it’s just like humans catching a cold

FALSE: Many cats that develop Cat Flu have the same symptoms as humans with a bad cold – such as runny nose and eyes, sneezing, conjunctivitis and mouth ulcers. However, the consequences of infection (such as cat disease symptoms ) can be much more concerning- ranging from secondary bacterial infections (pneumonia or rhinitis) to death (especially in kittens, elderly and immunosuppressed cats).Cat colds are a different condition, but it’s best to check with your vet. Most cats infected with either of the two flu viruses go on to become chronic carriers, and therefore continue to act as a source of infection to other cats. Ensure your cat receives regular vaccinations to help prevent disease.


Cat diarrhoea: what you can do