Cat Flu – Signs and Symptoms, Prevention and Treatment



Although it sounds like a single illness, there are three different types of virus which can cause what is popularly known as cat ‘flu. Thankfully, vaccination now provides excellent protection against these infections. No effective treatment exists for a cat which is unfortunate enough to contract cat ‘flu, so prevention is very important against these potentially lethal viruses, especially as any cats which do survive may suffer life-long complications.

Is there anything that I can do to encourage my cat to keep eating while it is suffering from FVR/FCV?

The cat’s sense of taste and smell are closely linked, so that it is best to offer strong-smelling foods. Pilchards in tomato sauce are often a good choice.

Will a cat that has suffered from FIE make a full recovery?

It may, but in some cases the intestinal lining is permanently damaged, so the cat may suffer from recurrent bouts of diarrhoea, and appear thin, even if eating well.

I forgot my cat’s vaccination certificate when I took him to the cattery. I had to produce it before they would admit him. Why?

Without vaccination proof against cat ‘flu, your pet, and others, are at great risk of illnesses.any cases of cat ‘flu are of the respiratory type, categorised as feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR) or feline calicivirus (FCV) infection. In FVR, the incubation period depends on the amount of virus received. In severe cases, signs of illness may be apparent after just two days, although it can take ten days for the typical signs of respiratory illness to become obvious. It is important to consult your veterinarian at the first sign of illness in your cat.


Always suspect cat ‘flu if your pet loses its appetite, and starts to sneeze repeatedly. In due course, the discharge from the eyes and nostrils will turn cloudy, indicating a secondary bacterial infection. The cat will find it extremely painful to eat, because ulcers will have developed on its tongue. Symptoms like this can persist for as long as six weeks, during which time the cat will lose condition rapidly, and may even develop complications such as pneumonia. It is actually quite difficult to distinguish between FVR and FCV, although generally FCV causes less severe signs.

Antibiotics will help to overcome any bacterial complications, which may otherwise lead to recurrent attacks of sinusitis.


There is also an infection of the digestive tract, called feline infectious enteritis (FIE), or feline panleucopaenia, which is considered to be another type of cat ‘flu. Signs are a rise in body temperature, coupled with severe vomiting and diarrhoea. Up to 90 per cent of infected cats particularly youngsters — may die from this type of cat ‘flu, so it is vitally important to vaccinate your kitten and to ensure that you remember its annual boosters.

  • ‘Flu viruses can survive for less than a day outside the cat’s body. They can be killed by some disinfectants, including cetrimide.
  • A cat’s sneeze is powerful enough to spread the infection via droplets in the atmosphere for a distance of almost 2m (7ft).
  • The FIE virus can harm a kitten before birth. It can permanently damage that part of the brain known as the cerebellum and upset the kitten’s sense of balance. Female cats must be vaccinated prior to mating as a precautionary measure.