Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors
Person comforting a sick or sad cat

The essentials

  • Cats are just like us — Much like a human would, cats can experience symptoms like sneezing or a runny nose.
  • Your vet may need to resolve your pet’s symptoms — While it can be tempting to try to DIY a fix, a vet’s help might be needed to fully resolve the illness as soon as possible (reducing your pet’s risk for complications later on!)
  • Older cats can have a higher risk of sickness — Unlike their younger counterparts, older furry friends may be more at risk of sickness due to a weaker immune system.

We know it seems crazy, but your pet can catch similar viruses and “colds” that humans can — and they may even experience similar symptoms. Don’t reach for the human cold medication, though. Your cat likely needs to get plenty of rest and be seen by a vet for extra support in fighting off viruses or bacterial infections.

What causes cat “colds”? 

There are many different types of illnesses that can cause cold-like symptoms in your cat. Here’s a summary of a few of the most common ones to watch if you notice your cat isn’t feeling well.

Viruses in cats

Cat-specific viruses (like feline herpesvirus, or FVR, and feline calicivirus ) can cause sneezy symptoms and watering eyes in your cat, as well as fever and nasal discharge. It’s important to remember that many other infectious respiratory conditions can show up with the “same” signs — which is why a vet visit for proper diagnosis and treatment is key.

Many sources estimate that about 80-90% of all cat colds are from these two viruses alone, so don’t overlook the prevalence and risk for your kitty.

Bacteria in cats

While this cause is less common, bacterial infections (specifically upper respiratory infections, or URIs) can have many of the same signs you’d see with a cat cold virus.

As in people, airborne allergens and irritants can have similar effects on your cat’s respiratory tract. The list includes common irritants such as smoke, dust, deodorants and perfumes — all of which can contribute to sneezing and coughing fits. Additionally, newer deodorant-type cat litters will sometimes trigger sneezing fits and be enough disturbance to the cats, so much so that they’ll refuse to use the toilet. Keep an eye at all times to keep your cat as healthy as possible.

Dr. Bruce Armstrong

Other causes of cold-like symptoms in cats

If your cat’s still feeling sneezy (but you don’t think it’s a virus or bacteria), you might be right; there are other possible causes of similar symptoms in your cat. Rhinotracheitis , or swelling of the nasal and trachea area from FVR, can cause specific symptoms in both indoor cats, outdoor cats, and wild cats — and often requires a trip to your cat’s veterinarian to truly resolve.

In addition, your cat may be experiencing feline allergies. This can happen if they come into direct contact with an allergen or if they are sensitive to seasonal change. Avoiding close contact with unfamiliar items or fabrics, as well as having them evaluated from the first sign of persisting cold-like symptoms, can help them have the best experience possible, even if they do get sniffly around seasonal shifts.

Your vet doesn’t have to have a formal allergy to have symptoms, however. Common irritants like aerosols, smokes, dust and pollens can cause upper respiratory symptoms, almost mimicking the human diagnosis of “hay fever.”

Symptoms of cat colds 

There are many different possible symptoms of cat colds. If you’re unsure of a symptom, reach out to your vet. They can evaluate your cat or kitten and check for other possible contributing factors, like secondary bacterial infections, and give you the most accurate diagnosis for your pet. You’ll also get preventative medical advice to lower your cat’s future risk.

Sneezing and nasal discharge

This one might seem obvious, but it can often be written off as “cat noises” or cute sniffles or sneezes, especially with senior cats. If left unattended, this can lead to pneumonia down the line, making this an especially important symptom to catch as it begins.

Your feline friend might appreciate an air purifier or some vet-prescribed steroids to help keep them feel comfortable as you work toward a diagnosis.

Eye discharge

While this only happens in certain cases, your cat’s cold symptoms may or may not include eye discharge. This can be quite uncomfortable for a sick cat, and it might indicate the presence of a viral infection or a bacterial problem.

The best way to treat this is to be seen by your vet, as there might be many different causes for this symptom. They’ll be able to help you proceed confidently with clean cloth washes (which can be done using clean gauze and warm water) or medicated drops.

Lethargy and loss of appetite

Treatment for this symptom can look different by case, as there are several possible reasons that lethargy can occur. We recommend taking your cat in for an accurate diagnosis and following the advice of your vet. This is the best way to protect your pet’s health and ensure nothing is missed.

Possible causes of this symptom that may have a viral or bacterial root can include feline herpesvirus (which can commonly occur in unvaccinated cats) and other cat viruses, such as upper respiratory tract infections or feline rhinotracheitis virus.

Oral ulcers

Oral ulcers can be reason enough for a vet appointment, as they could be indicative of feline colds that have advanced. The good news is that they are treatable with sucralfate , which  can coat your cat’s sensitive membranes for extra comfort.

The bad news is that it could be a sign of something else going on with your cat’s health. That’s why it’s important to schedule a follow up visit, even if you see signs of improvement.


The best way to see if your cat has a fever is to use a rectal thermometer — but we don’t recommend checking at home. Doing this step wrong can result in a hurt cat, a hurt owner, and general frustration for everyone. The best thing to do is to take your cat to the vet, and determine if their temperature is outside normal range (which for many is 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit).

If your cat has a fever, there’s likely a viral or bacterial infection at play. This is usually even more true if your cat has persisting cold symptoms (even if they’re mild symptoms)—such as a sore throat or mucus discharge. Your vet can address this with observation or medication, depending on how serious the issues and symptoms are.

Treatment options for cat colds 

There are many possible treatment options for cat colds. In severe cases, your pet may need ongoing medication support (such as in the case of cat flu or a severe feline upper respiratory infection) or surgery (such as in the case of related nasal polyps).

We’ve listed alternative helpful treatment methods below, and encourage you to take a read. We do want to note that this list is for informational purposes only.

Ultimately, your vet is the best person to help you make the best choice possible for your furry friend as they’ll have all the information they need about your cat’s medical history and past medical treatment.

When to seek professional help

If you think that your cat caught a cat cold, it’s a good idea to seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Most common viruses can cause serious complications if they aren’t addressed promptly and properly. If you notice discharge coming from your cat’s nose, trouble breathing, or other signs of colds on this list, it’s time to make an appointment.

Home remedies for cat colds

If you think your furry friend already has a cat cold, don’t worry, there are a few DIY steps to make them feel as comfortable as possible. You can try:

  • A vaporizer or humidifier. This can be helpful if you notice signs of congestion in your cat.
  • Cleaning their eyes and nose. You can try doing this with clean gauze, sterile distilled water, and a gentle hand.
  • Extra blankets and “comfy” stuff. Just like humans, cats will appreciate a little extra TLC if they’re feeling under the weather.

Preventative measures

Here are some of the top strategies you can use to try to prevent cat colds.

Go to the vet (routinely!) — Don’t wait until it’s too late. Staying up-to-date on vaccinations and annual vet visits can be your best defense against colds.

Clean regularly and well — From blankets to litter boxes, making sure that your cat has a fresh place to stay is vital for their health.

Stay indoors when you can — Indoor cats may have less exposure risk compared to outdoor cats. Consider keeping your furry friend inside and supervised when possible.*

* Note that our vet team recommends keeping kittens separate from other household cats for 10-14 days after they come home to keep risk of infections at bay. Always ask your vet about necessary quarantine periods or precautions you should take when you bring your new cat home.

Frequently asked questions

How do indoor cats catch cat colds?

Cats can catch a virus or bacteria-based illnesses, just like humans. These germs are all around us and can be found in common places that your cat might be, such as entryways, the great outdoors, or their litter box. It’s also common in multi-cat households or close quarters.

How long do cat colds last?

Like humans, cat colds can last between 4-10 days. Seeing a vet as quickly as possible can help you to determine how long your cat might be “down” and how you can help them feel better.

Should I worry about my cat sneezing?

A sneeze here and there isn’t anything to worry about. However, if they’re doing it constantly or if they have any other symptoms of illness, a vet visit is recommended.

How do you naturally decongest a cat?

Humidifiers or vaporizers are the best natural ways to decongest your furry friend. It’s also simple and far less invasive than other methods. Just be sure not to overdo it, as it can worsen your pet’s symptoms. Our vets recommend short sessions 2-3 times a day, not exceeding 5-10 minutes. However, always check with your vet before determining a course of action.

Can I give my cat Benadryl?

While many may see Benadryl as “safe” for cats, we never recommend giving anything to your furry friend without speaking to your vet first.