By Katherine Tolford
When your cat is sneezing a lot and suffering from a runny nose, you can’t give her a spoonful of NyQuil and send her to bed like you’d do for a human. But there are a number of easy at-home remedies that can bring comfort when your cat has a cold.
Cats seek relief from most of the same cold symptoms as we do, including watery eyes, a runny nose, fever, sneezing, loss of appetite and a feeling of lethargy. They can also lose their voice, or rather, their meow. Cat colds typically last from one to four weeks depending on how quickly they’re diagnosed and treated.
No matter how uncomfortable your cat gets, though, you should never give her over-the-counter medicines meant for people. “The most important thing is to bring your cat into the vet for care before you do anything,” says Dr. Rachel Barrack, a licensed veterinarian and certified veterinary acupuncturist.
So, once you consult with your veterinarian to determine the diagnosis, skip the cold and flu aisle and try a little TLC with some of these remedies designed to help cat colds.
Help with Grooming
Cats are usually fastidious about grooming themselves, but they may need your help with hard-to-reach areas when they’re sick. Dr. Carol Osborne, an integrative veterinarian and authority in traditional and alternative veterinary medicine, suggests using a warm washcloth to clean their nasal passages and eyes.
“Gently massage your kitty’s face with a washcloth to clean out his mouth and nose. You can also use an infant’s bulb syringe to wash mucus out of your cat’s nose,” she says. If you use the syringe, be gentle and don’t force it on your cat if he’s uncomfortable.
Consider Vitamins and Natural Remedies
It’s unclear on whether or not giving your cat vitamins or trying natural remedies really can help her kick her cold (Barrack says she doesn’t use or recommend them), but you can try giving your cat the following items, provided they’ve first been green-lit by your veterinarian:
- Vitamin C. According to Osborne, giving your cat 250 to 500 milligrams of vitamin C twice a day can help boost your cat’s immunity just as it does in people. She recommends steering clear of pills. “I like to use gels. You can squirt a little in their mouth or on their paw and they will lick it off. It doesn’t always work to add it to your cat’s food. They may sniff it out and refuse to eat it.”
- Apple Cider Vinegar. This vinegar can help to alkalize a cat’s body PH, which wards off colds and other pathogens, Osborne says. She recommends mixing half of a teaspoon into your cat’s food, water or tuna juice once a day.
- Lysine. Just like in humans, once a cat contracts the herpes virus, it will remain in her system. Your vet may suggest lysine, an essential amino acid that serves as a building block for proteins, to help inhibit the replication of the virus. Osborne says the usual dosage is about 250 to 500 mg given a few times per day. She prefers a gel formula since pills can be a challenge to administer to cats.
Turn Up the Heat
Cats are not generally known for being aquatic creatures, but getting them to spend five to ten minutes a couple of days a week in a hot, steamy bathroom can help open their airways.
“Cats can be finicky, so you don’t want to stress them out with at-home remedies, but if you can get your cat to hang out in a steamy bathroom that can help open nasal passages while fighting infection,” Barrack says. For those cats especially resistant to the idea, she suggests that their favorite person accompany them and encourage them with head scratching or petting.
Osborne suggests having your kitty sit adjacent to a vaporizer with a little Vicks VapoRub added to it. “Try for 30 minutes a day for two or three days. It helps relieve congestion just like in newborn babies,” she says.
Cats love to cuddle up against warm surfaces, so a heating pad would seem like a logical choice to soothe her when she’s under the weather. However, Barrack advises owners to use heating pads with caution and care. “It’s important to regulate the temperature so your cat doesn’t get burned. The skin on their paws and belly are the most sensitive,” she says.
Instead, Osborne suggests wrapping a few blankets or gloves filled with warm water around your kitty to keep her warm.
Keep an Eye on Her Food and Water Bowls
When your kitty is congested she can lose her sense of smell, which can result in a loss of appetite. Osborne says you may be able to entice your kitty into eating with special treats such as a teaspoon of tuna, sardine juice, raw liver, chicken baby food with no onions or a few ounces of honey and yogurt. Barrack says a little extra preparation may also help.
“If your cat is reluctant to eat, you can soak dry food in water or warm up canned food to slightly more than room temperature. It may make it more palatable and enticing to eat because it brings out the natural odors of the food,” Barrack says.
Monitoring your cat’s hydration level is also extremely important. You can get an estimate on how hydrated she is by placing a bit of her skin on the back of her neck (the spot where a mother cat would pick up her kitten) between your thumb and forefinger and holding it like a teepee for five seconds, Osborne says. It should snap back to its original position in less than a second. Most vets estimate one percent dehydration for each extra second it takes to return to its original position. Dehydration levels above three to four percent are considered worthy of a trip to the vet.
Another way to measure hydration is to check your cat’s gums. They should be a soft pink color and wet and slippery (like a human’s gums). “If your cat’s gums are red and they feel tacky or sticky on your finger then your cat is dehydrated,” Osborne says, adding that these at-home remedies should be used only as supportive measures.
“[If you believe your cat is dehydrated] you should see your vet to prevent secondary issues such as bacterial pneumonia. It’s also important to make sure your cat is urinating and defecating. Diarrhea leads to further dehydration,” she says.
Why Cats Get Colds
Cats can get both viral and bacterial sicknesses, with the feline herpesvirus (which can cause eye ulcers) and the feline calicivirus (which can cause oral ulcers) being responsible for 95 percent of cat colds, Osborne says. “[Cat colds] can also be caused by a combination of viruses and whatever other bacteria happens to come around your cat.”
Cats are also sensitive to change, so if your kitty is feeling stressed out over something like recuperating from being spayed or neutered, being boarded or a change of residence, her immune system may be weakened, which can trigger a cold. Using Lysine 5-7 days prior to any stressful events can be helpful in boosting the immune system and lessening the risk of upper respiratory infections following these events.
Barrack says that although cats can’t spread the virus to people, they can spread it to other cats.
Cat Colds: When to See a Veterinarian
Barrack says some more severe symptoms that cat owners should watch out for include difficulty breathing, increased eye or nasal discharge, increased lethargy or a refusal to eat or drink. If you notice any of the above, make sure to see a vet instead of trying to treat the problem at home.
“These are all signs that more care is required. It’s easy to think that when your cat has a cold there’s nothing to worry about, but I think it’s better to err on the side of caution,” says Barrack. “It’s easier to treat in the early stages.”
Image: bastetamon via Shutterstock