sneezing kittens, how to treat a kitten with the cat flu

Cats & Kittens With Cold Symptoms (Sneezing, Runny Nose, Discharge)

Sneezing by kittens is referred to as the cat flu, a term describing cold-like symptoms affecting cats and kittens. The cat flu is brought on by a viral or bacterial infection. Learn about causes and treatment below.
Kitten Sneezes All the Time

Dear Simba,My girlfriend found a kitten a week ago...the little guy has been sneezing and has watery eyes!
He is having a little trouble breathing, like he is gasping for air. Otherwise, he plays and acts as if he is not sick....Why is he sneezing? Is this is a serious problem?
Friend of Lil'Kitten

Dear Friend of Lil'Kitten,
It is possible the little guy might have the cat flu. Read below to learn more and get him checked out soon! - Simba


Sneezing by cats is often referred to as the cat flu. The cat flu is a general term that describes cold / flu symptoms in cats. Often, the cat flu is brought on by a viral or bacterial infection.
The two viruses responsible for the cat flu virus are: Feline Calicivirus (FCV) Pronounced 'kal-ee-chee'. Found in nearly half of cats and kittens with upper respiratory infections.
Feline herpesvirus (FHV) The more serious of the two viral infections. Found worldwide. FHV is the virus that causes Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (FVR). FVR is the condition that results from FHV (ex. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS).

The bacterial forms of the cat flu are brought on by: Chlamydophila felis (AKA Chlamydia) bacteria found in house cats worldwide. Causes upper respiratory tract disease, conjunctivitis and pneumonia
Bordetella bronchiseptica (AKA Kennel Cough) Infectious disease. Common cause of cold symptoms.

Common Cat Flu Symptoms

In both viral and bacterial forms cat flu common symptoms include sneezing, coughing, nasal discharge, fevers and conjunctivitis (discharge/cloudiness around the membrane of the eye). Affected cats can also develop Pneumonia from secondary bacterial infections. In addition:

Feline calicivirus (FCV)
Affected cats symptoms may include ulceration of the mouth and tongue, palate, lips and sometimes the tip of the nose as well as joint problems (polyarthritis).

Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (FVR)
Affected cats can sometimes develop corneal ulcers. Also the discharge from the nose many times starts a clear fluid which can turn thick and green as the disease progresses. Cats often lose their sense of smell.

The bacteria can cause eye discharge and eyelid swelling. Many times it will start as a watery discharge from one eye and then will affect both. Because it is uncomfortable affected cats may hold their eyelids partially closed. As the disease progresses, severe swelling and reddening of the conjunctiva may be seen and the discharge changes from watery to a thicker yellowish discharge.

Many healthy cats carry the both the feline herpesvirus (FHV) and the feline calicivirus (FCV) and show no symptoms. So even if your cat tests positive for it, it does not mean that the actual respiratory problems are caused by that one particular virus.

How Is The Cat Flu Spread?

Transmission varies but in general all types are contagious.

Feline herpesvirus (FHV)
is transmitted through direct cat contact. The feline herpesvirus lives and replicates itself in the nasal areas and in the tonsils. The virus is then shed in saliva and eye and nasal secretions as well as in areas where the cat has deposited those secretions. FHV has a 2 to 5 day incubation period and can be shed 1 to 3 weeks afterwards. Some carriers might even shed a variant of the virus for life.

Feline calicivirus (FCV)
Lives and replicates in the oral and respiratory tissues and is also secreted in saliva and in respiratory secretions. It is also shed in feces / urine. So it can be transmitted directly and indirectly through the air, orally, and on areas where the cat has deposited those secretions. Infected cats typically shed the virus for about 2 weeks after which they never shed the virus again (unless they have a latent infection and then shed intermittently).

Chlamydophila felis is fragile and cannot survive long in the environment so it is most commonly transmitted by direct contact between cats.

Both viral forms of the cat flu are contagious and easily spread for a few weeks following infection (some cats can be latent carriers and can shed intermittently but this is less common). Chlamydia less so but still VERY common. Ditto for Bordetella.

Can also be transmitted directly and indirectly through the air, orally, and on areas where the cat has deposited those secretions.

Protect Your Cat From The Cat Flu

FHV, FCV, Chlamydophila felis and Bordetella Kitten Vaccine Schedule are good ways to prevent transmission of the disease so make sure that kitty's shots are all up to date. Good hygiene is key also, especially in multiple-cat homes so please keep the infected cat isolated from other cats in your house and be sure to disinfect and thoroughly clean all areas where an infected (or possibly infected) cat has been.

Kitten Eye Discharge

Hi Simba,
Our 3-month-old male kitten has developed a severe case of conjunctivitis, which did not respond to antibiotic creams. He is now sneezing and has a lot of green eye discharge. I am bringing him to the cat- eye doctor tomorrow as one eye is really bad and almost all covered by the inner eye. Should he be on antibiotics if his discharge is green? Our vet suspects the cat the feline herpesvirus. He also still needs his third shot and we were told to wait?

We got another kitten from the SPCA the week before who had a bad upper respiratory infection. We treated her for that and she is much better but she still sneezes. She needs to be spayed…should we wait for the sneezing to halt? Is she the carrier of the virus that gave our other kitten the sore eyes? This one never had bad eye problems but was treated with eye ointment. Thanks for your advice -very worried mom and dad! Sandy & Dave

Dear Sandy & Dave,
Your vet is right in having you put off your 3-month-old's shots.Injections for virus immunization contain weakened or dead virus elements. In healthy recipients the body can easily overcome the weak virus and develops immunity. In immune system compromised patients the vaccines could present problems.

As for whether the green discharge should be treated with antibiotics, I cannot tell. If your little one's immune system is weakened, the shot will have little or no effect and may cause problems. Many times green discharge is brought on by Feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR) which is caused by the feline herpes virus.

As for the female's spaying, consider postponing surgery so long as her immune system is depressed. This may or may not be the case with the female. Again, trust your vet's opinion, as only he/she can make a good assessment.

As to whether the new cat is the carrier of the virus. It could be. Check out the Helping New Cats Adjust section for tips on future cat introductions. Keep me posted. Simba

Dear Simba,
I found a kitten on my doorstep and decided to give her a loving home. She appears to be about 10-weeks-old, and pretty healthy. I do not know how long she has been outside. She has a discharge coming out of one eye. Not a lot, it is a very light yellow. Should I keep cleaning it with a warm washcloth until I can get her in to the vet? Her eyes do not appear to be cloudy or anything just the one has some discharge. I want to make her as comfy as possible until the vet can see her. Misty

Dear Misty,
I suspect that your friend is showing signs of conjunctivitis sometimes associated with Chlamydia, one of the causes of the cat flu. Your vet will be able to make a diagnosis and give you a treatment plan, most likely including antibiotics. In the meantime continue cleaning gently with the warm wash cloth. You are a kind soul for rescuing the little creature. Your Pal, Simba


Treatment will vary by type of infection though as always you should keep your cat comfortable, well fed and happy and in some instances separated from other cats.

If your cat has one of the bacterial infections the good news is that both Bordetella and Chlamydia respond well to antibiotics.

For both viral forms of the illness there are no specific treatments though vets will often use antibiotics for secondary bacterial infections. For some variants vets will sometimes they also use immune modulators to strengthen the immune system. Many times treatment will be limited symptoms only. As an example conjunctivitis or corneal ulcers treated using topical antibiotics.

Though serious, the viral forms of the disease are not necessarily fatal and your cat can develop immunity. Note however that once your kitty has battled through it is possible he / she may occasionally or recurrently show symptoms. This is all dependent on what damage the virus has caused and perhaps even a new / different infection. Nonetheless your cat can live a long and happy life.

In any event, if your kitty is showing signs of the above, go to your vet and start treatment right away!

Kitten with Runny Nose

Dear Simba,
I got a kitten from a local shelter about 4 weeks ago. She is now 12-weeks-old. When we got her she had some mild sneezing and no real discharge. But the shelter staff thought it important that she get her shots that same day. They gave her the shots and we brought her home.

That night Spider played like normal, but she started sneezing more! The next day Spider did not eat or drink and although she tried to go to the litter box, she could not pass anything. I was concerned enough to take her to the vet who diagnosed her as having the Cat Flu. She was placed on antibiotics for 14 days, and I force-fed her food and water at home for a week until she started eating on her own. Twice or three times a day we would put her in the bathroom with the shower running and steam her to loosen the mucus in her nose, and we kept her face as clean as we could.

I had hoped that she would get better fast. While she is eating and playing more, the mucus coming from her nose is more greenish in color and there is more of it. She continues to sneeze and cannot breathe through her nose very well. She has also started this retching cough which looks like she is trying to lose a hairball and her eyes are starting to weep more than before. What do you think? Her nose and cough have me worried. Jeremy

Dear Jeremy,
Although only your vet can say for sure it is possible that Spider may have the viral form of the Cat Flu, particularly the one caused by the feline herpesvirus (FHV) which causes Feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR). Unlike the bacterial infection, the virus does not respond to antibiotics. One idea to help her breathing is to use a eye-dropper to remove the mucus from her nostrils (like they do for babies with colds). I would recommend that you also take her to the vet again and see if he might offer some additional antibiotics on the off chance that the prior batch was not strong enough and she has the bacterial form of the flu.

However, given that this could be a viral form of the cat flu your best bet is to strengthen up her immune system through good nutrition and play.

The good news is that the cat flu is not fatal but it can be chronic. However, cats can live long happy lives with it. Let me know how she does. Your Pal, Simba

Kitten Sneezes...Has Runny Nose
Dear Simba, I have a 5-month-old kitten that has started sneezing a lot lately. He is on Biomox from the vet but just seems to keep sneezing. He was put on the Biomox for an upper respiratory infection. Will the Biomox help his sneezing also?

Is it possible that he could be allergic to his litter? Seems that he sneezes a lot after using his litter box. His nose is also running when he sneezes, but it is clear.

The flu went through the house, do you think he may have it now? Help!!! Hate to see Squeaker sick. Sheila

Dear Sheila,
The cat flu and the cold / flu that affects people are completely different. The cat flu is brought on by viral or a bacterial infection that is particular to them. Do not feel guilty that you passed on your flu to Squeaker. It is impossible.

As to whether Squeaker is allergic to his litter you can test it by by switching litter types. click here for a write up on the cat flu. Keep me posted. Simba

Hi Simba- I recently rescued a kitten (on the side of the road). He is about 7-weeks-old and has been with us since October. He was completely flea-infested, so I gave him a bath with flea shampoo. I also got him a kitten flea collar. He has been eating like there is no tomorrow and he is using the litter box regularly and seems to have no problems. However, he has been coughing the past couple of days and while he normally wants to be around me, he has been sleeping under the bed, in the closet etc.

This is my first kitten and I am nervous. Someone told me that when cats do not feel well they tend to isolate themselves. Could he be allergic to the flea collar> does he have a cold? Help! Jennifer

Dear Jennifer,
Thank goodness for nice people like you. It sounds like the kitten is adjusting well. I would venture to guess that your kitten is sleeping in places that are warm and where he feels comfortable. Be sure to put a blanket or kitty bed for him so he can nap and feel comfy.

At 7 weeks of age kittens are still very delicate so be sure that your home is no colder than 70 degrees.

Also, make sure that the collar you use is kitten safe. Many types of collars, powders and shampoos for dogs can be harmful to kitties.

As for his coughing, these symptoms can be brought on by lower respiratory track problems / infections and can be caused by everything to his inhaling of irritants like gasses or dirt to allergies, parasites, bronchitis and the cat flu.

Because your kitten has been coughing recently you are best off taking him to the vet to get him treated soon! He is young his lungs are still in development...the sooner you take care of any respiratory track infections the less likely that he will have permanent damage and future problems in that area. Keep me posted. Simba

Dear Simba,
Our 4-month-old kitten, Parkway, arrived 5 days ago. She started sneezing yesterday...a lot. It is messy and gross, but not at all connected with a runny nose, or other signs of sickness. She has a great appetite, is playful and sleeps well. She can go for long periods without sneezing and does not sneeze when she eats or sleeps. She has had a lot of new things introduced to her recently - could she be allergic? She eats canned IAMS food (she used to eat dry food and did not sneeze then); we also switched her litter from the all-organic to Fresh Step. Do cats get allergies? - Caring for a Kleenex Kitten

Dear Caring for a Kleenex Kitten,
Cats rarely get allergies. A common cause of sneezing and nasal discharge are viral or bacterial infections that cause what is known as the the cat flu. These can be chronic or latent and symptoms can return in times of stress. Cats live long and happy lives with the viruses, so do not be alarmed! The sneezing is caused by inflammation and/or infections in the mucus membranes damaged by the virus or bacteria.

Take Parkway to her vet to get a good treatment plan.

Also, consider returning Parkway to dry food (IAMS has good dry kitten food). I believe that dry is bit better for your cat's dental health. Make any future transitions gradual in nature (this applies to her litter as well). Who knows this may help alleviate any stress she feels. Your Pal, Simba

Congested Kitten

Hi Simba, Some trick-or-treaters brought us our little stray Spooky this Halloween. The vet says he is 18-weeks-old, and has him on an antibiotic for kitty cold, plus eyes cream for conjunctivitis, ear mite drops, and flea retardant. Spooky is the sweetest and most affectionate kitten around! The problem is that we can tell he has not eaten since he is been with us. He will drink water, and uses the litter box well.

The vet said that with his nose stuffed up, he would not eat a lot. How long should we wait for him? He meows pitifully, as if he is hungry, but he refuses canned and dry kitten food (and even chicken scraps). - Spooky's Mom

Dear Spooky’s Mom,
I hope that Spooky is back eating ok. If he is not, I suggest putting out some tuna or sardines. See if the irresistible smell does not bring back his ‘appetito.’ If this does not work, I suggest that you begin feeding him by hand (use a beaker to feed him liquefied food). Your vet is right in his saying that Spooky will eat when he is ready. Kittens have very sensitive tummies and any sort of spicy chicken can cause an upset stomach. Your Pal, Simba

Cat with Bloody Nose

Dear Simba, I have been reading the stories about kitty flu. I am finding a lot of similarities, with one exception. Sunny is my 3 1/2-month-old kitten has the one runny eye, coughing, bad congestion (sounds like he is breathing through a coffee stir), sneezing with discharge- here is where my concern is, the discharge is bloody sometimes more blood than not. I took him to the vet for his shots and told the doctor of his symptoms. He gave him antibiotics. After 3 days of it he was no better. The doctor changed his prescription to Clavomox, 10 days later he still coughs, has bad congestion and sneezes a bloody discharge. My vet has said for me to get a second opinion because he is not sure what it could be other than the kitty flu. I am alarmed at his continued symptoms! Not so sunny days

He is still eating, drinking, going potty, playing as though he was fine.

Dear Not so sunny days,
Your kitten not responding to antibiotics may imply that he has the viral form of the kitty flu (either the FCV or FHV). As you know, viruses do not respond to antibiotics. Best way to make sure is to see a vet that specializes in Cats (check out the American Association of Feline Professionals).

There are a couple of tests that a vet can perform to figure out what is at the root of this. These include radiographs (x-rays) of the skull. These allow you to see the nasal cavity and frontal sinuses and can help you determine what, if any damage the virus and/or infections have done to his nasal passages. Another test is a nasal flush. This diagnostic procedure is used to collect matter from the nasal cavity for study or culture. It will help you sort out what, if any bacteria are affecting kitty. Kitties are very resilient creatures and it looks like your little one is holding his own. Take him to a cat doctor and let me know how you two do. Simba

Dear Simba
My sister just adopted a kitten. It came home sneezing and drooling. The vet says that drooling can be normal and the kitten sounds fine, but put her on an antibiotic in case. She is drooling a lot more. Can this be serious? The vet also said she could have kennel cough. What do you think? signed Maggie's aunt

Dear Maggie's Aunt,
The drooling is could be the result of stress (cats can salivate when nervous) or an oral ulcer brought upon by the cat flu

If kitty does not eat, he may need some nutritional support in the form of intravenous/subcutaneous fluids or easily eaten and digested supplements. Keep me posted. Simba

Just wanted to let you know that Maggie is doing much better. She had an upper respiratory infection. The vet gave her drops for her eye infection…she was allergic to it and her eye swelled shut. But she is as lively as ever! We love your site, keep up the good work and thank you! Maggie's Aunt ----Thanks for the note. I am happy Maggie is doing better. Simba

Hi Simba, I have two kittens 'on hold' at the SPCA until they are old enough to leave their mom. The whole litter has come down with a respiratory infection and are being treated with antibiotics. They have improved but I am concerned that they may now have a chronic condition due to secondary bacterial infections of the damaged nasal passages and fine bones within the nose.

Hi - You are very astute in your observations. It is possible that your kittens may either have a case of the cat flu. However serious cats do recover and cats can live long and happy lives with it and their love for you will be undiminished. While they could come out fine (it seems they are getting good treatment) they may have some lingering side effects. do not worry, and congratulations on your kittens! Simba

Hi Simba,
We are fostering a 4-week-old kitten from our local humane society. Bailey came to us with a little sneeze, but the vet said he was fine. it is been 6 days, and he has begun to breathe noisily, sneeze with a discharge, which is fairly clear and meow more often. His eyes are fine, he eats and drinks no problem, weighs about 350 grams, he uses his litter box, and is relatively active. We are concerned because he seems to be somewhat distressed, and has difficulty breathing. We want to keep him at home, because returning him to the humane society usually just exposes him to other serious diseases. Should we keep him at home, or is there something the vet could do to help Bailey? Carole

Dear Carole,
It might be worthwhile to take Bailey to the vet, since he could very well have the bacterial form of the cat flu. In the meantime, continue keeping him well fed and comfy. You may want to try sitting with him in the bathroom while running hot water on in the shower or with a humidifier so that his sinuses might clear up with the steam. Keep me posted. Simba

Mild Sneezing Post-Vaccine

Hi Simba,
My name is Pippin and my mommy's concerned about my sneezing. A week and a half ago I got my first dose of my viral rhinotracheitis vaccination. My brother, Merry also got the shots and he is perfectly fine. However, I have been sneezing and Mommy thinks my breath is a little stinky. She also noticed me wiping my nose with my paw and licking it. I am perfectly fine otherwise. I play with Merry all the time and I still eat a lot of food! My favorite is tuna!!

Could the vaccine be causing my mild symptoms? Do you think this will go away on its own? Mommy's going to take me to the vet if they think it is serious (I hope not since my last vet trip was traumatic enough!)

Dear Pippin,
Sorry to hear of your sneezing. It is not uncommon for the FHV vaccine to cause mild symptoms. do not worry, these usually last just a few days. Make sure your mommy keeps an eye on you and if these symptoms continue make sure she takes you to the vet. Your Pal, Simba

Cats & Human Flu

Dear Simba,
I recently adopted three, 4-week-old kittens and they are all doing great. I am now sick with fever and the flu. Could I possibly pass any germs on to the kittens? Are there any precautions that I need to take to ensure the wellbeing of my sweeties? Thanks, Kaila

Dear Kaila,
You do not need to worry about the little ones. The cat flu is the result of a viral or bacterial infection, both of which are specific to cats and VERY different from the human cold or flu virus. Get better. Simba

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