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Can Cats Catch the Flu From a Person? Vet Approved Facts & FAQ

Written by: Ashley Bates

Last Updated on June 6, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

woman with allergy holding cat

Can Cats Catch the Flu From a Person? Vet Approved Facts & FAQ

VET APPROVED

Dr. Lauren Demos (DVM) Photo

REVIEWED & FACT-CHECKED BY

Dr. Lauren Demos (DVM)

Veterinarian

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Learn more »

If you live in a cat-filled home, you know that there are lots of things both of you share. But can you share illness? It’s widely known that cats and people can pass certain things back and forth, like certain viruses, bacteria, and parasites.

While effects are usually mild, they can still transfer. However, when it comes to influenza, humans can pass the flu on to cats. Let’s get to know the virus more so you can determine if you gave your cat a case of the sniffles this flu season.

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Can Cats Catch the Flu From a Person?

If you’ve ever had the flu, you know all too well how taxing it can be on your body. Depending on the strain and your immunity, it can hit folks at different levels of severity. Some people can be laid up in the hospital while others barely feel the effects.

There are certain strains that can affect both cats and humans, though transmission is rare. According to the CDC, cats can get several seasonal flu viruses, including avian flu. So, we share the ability to contract these viruses and pass it between others of various species.

Regardless of how you get the flu, your cat can, too. Generally, the sickness is much less severe for our feline friends and, therefore, may be less noticeable. But signs can still manifest if you pay close attention.

cat owner
Image by: Piqsels

Signs of the Flu in Cats

Cats contract the flu the same way people do—through saliva, sneezing, coughing, and contact with infected molecules on surfaces. So, if the flu is rampant around your home, it’s hard to protect people and pets.

Signs of the flu in your kitty can include:

  • Runny eyes or nose
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever

How Likely Is It You Will Pass the Flu to Your Cat?

Luckily, it’s extremely rare to pass a flu strain from feline to human (or human to feline.) While possible, it’s sometimes not even detectable due to the mild nature of the signs. Of course, the severity depends on several internal factors and overall immunity.

Unlike some other zoonotic diseases, the flu is believed to be much more likely to pass from human to kitty than the opposite.

cat owner sneezing
Image by: Pormezz, Shutterstock

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Cat Flu (Feline Upper Respiratory Infections)

Cats are also prone to the cat flu, otherwise known as feline upper respiratory infections. These infections are not the same as those passed from influenza virus but can manifest very similar signs of illness.

If you’ve recently been ill and now your cat is showing signs of sickness, guessing its related is a normal response. But it’s only sometimes the correct answer. Your cat may be sick from another illness entirely, but the timing is aligned with your own virus

Causes & Signs

Feline upper respiratory infections can cause some of the same signs as the flu and sometimes require veterinary treatment. While the feline herpesvirus and calicivirus are the most common causes of cat flu, accounting for roughly 90% of all cases, there are other culprits.

Mycoplasma, Bordetella, and feline chlamydiosis can also be the root cause. So, while vaccines prevent many cat flu cases, they can’t eliminate the risk entirely.

Signs of feline upper respiratory infection include
  • Lethargy
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Eye ulcers
  • Appetite loss
  • Fever
  • Nasal and eye drainage
  • Difficulty breathing

As you can see, the signs very much mirror influenza virus, so it’s hard to know at first glance what the underlying cause actually is.

cat meow
Image Credit: Pixabay

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Do Cats Need to be Vaccinated Against Human Flu Strains?

Cats have two main flu types: feline calicivirus and herpesvirus. Kittens are usually routinely vaccinated around 8 to 9 weeks from these illnesses, along with several other problematic diseases they could contract.

However, there is no specific influenza vaccine for cats.

Can Your Cat Die From the Flu?

There are an estimated 50,000+ people who die from the flu annually in the United States alone. Likewise, flu strains can impact the feline population, sometimes having detrimental effects.

So, while death is always possible due to lowered immunity or poor health factors, cats will usually recover once the virus runs its course.

If your cat has a very high fever, refuses to hydrate, or has any trouble breathing, you will need to get them to the vet promptly. While recovery is entirely possible, worsening signs such as these can have dire consequences if left untreated.

vet helping cat breathe
Image Credit: Kzenon, Shutterstock

Can Humans Contract Feline Calicivirus or Herpesvirus?

As we mentioned earlier in the article, feline calicivirus and herpesvirus are two diseases your cat is vaccinated against as a preventative. These are feline-specific viruses, but can they transmit to humans with direct contact?

Neither feline calicivirus1 nor herpesvirus1 is transmissible to humans, posing no danger to pet parents. These viruses can, however, be deadly to your cats. So, always stay up to date with regular vetting and routine vaccination schedules.

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How to Avoid Passing Germs

Since COVID-19, most folks around the globe have hand-washing down pat. Transmission is generally the same as in people, so stay away from face-to-face contact and waste. The same behavior should extend to your home, especially when handling your cat or their litter box.

While sick, wash your hands a lot and avoid handling your cat unnecessarily. Depending on personality, this one can be tough because some cats demand cuddles and snuggles from their people, especially when they know their humans aren’t feeling well.

Even though no contact isn’t really an option, you can try to limit it to the best of your ability. If your cat does contract a flu virus from you, it’s perfectly fine. Cats with healthy immune systems should recover promptly; sickly cats may take a little longer.

woman washing her hands
Image Credit: Slavoljubovski, Pixabay

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Conclusion

Now you can take away the knowledge that we can get our kitties sick during flu season, but it’s infrequent and requires a specific selection of flu strains. If you’re feeling under the weather, you should steer clear of your kitty as much as possible for a few days.

But just know, it’s very unlikely you’ll infect your cat. Use good sanitization throughout the sickness and feel better soon.


Featured Image Credit: LightField Studios, Shutterstock

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