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Can Cats Catch the Flu From a Person? The Interesting Answer

Elizabeth Gray

By Elizabeth Gray

sick woman with a cat on her lap

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Dr. Paola Cuevas

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Every year, cold weather brings with it an increase in illnesses among people. We know that cold and flu viruses are highly contagious to humans, but do you also need to worry about infecting your pets? While cats can catch the flu from a person, it’s not very common and usually only results in mild illness for the kitty.

In this article, you’ll learn how your cat could catch the flu from you or another source. We’ll also tell you the difference between the flu and “cat flu” and tips to keep your kitty safe from both illnesses.

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How Cats Catch the Flu from People

The flu, properly termed influenza, is caused by several viruses. Some types of flu only occur in specific hosts, while others can infect many birds and mammals. Cats catch and spread the flu from people the same way that humans do with each other. Your kitty could be infected by contact with respiratory droplets, such as you sneezing or coughing on them.

They could also come in contact with the virus on surfaces or when you pet them with contaminated hands. Kitties may spread the virus to each other by direct contact, sharing food bowls, or respiratory droplets. While rare, there are reported cases of cats catching avian flu by eating infected birds 1.

While there is evidence that cats can catch the flu from people, it’s not been proven that cats can spread the virus to humans.

man with cat allergy
Image Credit: Elizaveta Galitckaia, Shutterstock

What is “Cat Flu?”

Cat flu is the nickname for a commonly occurring viral feline upper respiratory infection. However, “cat flu” is a misleading term because it’s not an influenza virus that causes the disease. Instead, cats are typically infected with either herpes or calicivirus.

These viruses are very contagious among cats and tend to spread quickly in crowded, high-stress settings like animal shelters or catteries. Cats are infected by contact with sick kitties, respiratory droplets, or contaminated surfaces. Common signs of cat flu include the following:

  • Sneezing
  • Swollen, red eyes
  • Nasal discharge
  • Coughing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Drooling
  • Lethargy

Many cats with these viruses carry them for life and suffer flare-ups of symptoms periodically. There’s usually no way to cure the actual virus, only to treat the symptoms and any secondary infections that may occur.

If you notice any of these signs in your cat, make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible. Kittens and cats with weak immune systems are most at risk of developing more severe complications from cat flu.

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Protecting Your Cat from the Flu and Cat Flu

To protect your cat from catching the flu from a person, make sure everyone in the house practices good hygiene. Wash your hands frequently, especially before and after handling your cat. If you’re sick, stay away from your cat and let someone healthy take care of them.

To protect against “cat flu,” ensure your kitty stays up-to-date on recommended vaccines. Several of the viruses that cause cat flu are included in these core shots, providing some protection.

If you adopt a new cat, keep them separate from any other kitties in the house for at least two weeks (ask your vet how long) to help prevent the spread of any viruses. Sick cats should be kept away from healthy ones, and food and water bowls should also be separated to minimize transmission.

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Cats can catch the flu from people, but it’s rare. However, there doesn’t seem to be much chance that your cat can infect you with the flu or a cold. If you get sick, those at greatest risk of infection will still be other humans rather than your cat. Ask your doctor how best to keep yourself safe from the flu and keep others safe when you get sick. Chances are, the precautions you take to prevent spreading the flu to people will also keep your cat safe from infection.

Featured Image Credit: Pormezz, Shutterstock

Elizabeth Gray

Authored by

Elizabeth Gray is a lifelong lover of all creatures great and small. She got her first cat at 5 years old and at 14, she started working for her local veterinarian. Elizabeth spent more than 20 years working as a veterinary nurse before stepping away to become a stay-at-home parent to her daughter. Now, she is excited to share her hard-earned knowledge (literally–she has scars) with our readers. Elizabeth lives in Iowa ...Read more

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