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Edited and Republished December 2009

A reader asks:

I have a 9 month old cat So far she seems pretty healthy and up to date on her vaccinations. But my question is (and I haven't seen it addressed anywhere), right now I'm sick with a cold As other humans can, are cats able to catch colds/the flu from humans too? I wouldn't want this to cause any problems for her. If you could answer this I'd appreciate it. Thanks!

Ordinarily, the definition of zoonotic diseases are those which can be transmitted from animals to humans, and not the other way around. Historically, there have been very few exceptions. Two that come to mind are ringworm and conjunctivitis (commonly called "pinkeye.")

In 2009, however, a notable exception has been added: the H1N1 virus, sometimes called the "2009 Swine Flu" virus. To date, there have been approximately 10 documented cases of domestic cats with H1N1, and up to four cases (one tested positive) of H1N1 in Cheetahs in a Southern California private zoo. All of these cases are believed to having been transmitted by human family members (the Cheetahs by the zookeeper.) You can read more with my Q&A article on H1N1 and Cats.

Should you get H1N1, the best precautions against spreading it to other humans or cats are:

  • Stay in bed during the early days of the flu, and keep the cats out of the bedroom. You should not have direct contact with your cats until 24 hours after your temperature has returned to normal.
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue, then fold the tissue and discard it in a trash container.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water immediately after coughing or sneezing, and before preparing food for your family, including your cats.
  • Watch for symptoms of H1N1 in your cats and take them to the veterinarian at the first sign of symptoms.

The last precaution is extremely important. Mary G., the owner of the last documented cat with H1N1 reported that the main reason her cat, Maddie, had such a mild case of H1N1 is because she was taken to the veterinarian within 24 hours of her first sneezing. Maddie is now recovering comfortably at home.

Comments

April 19, 2008 at 10:02 am
(1) Eliza says:

No

April 19, 2008 at 10:04 am
(2) elise says:

yes cats can get a cold

April 20, 2008 at 4:20 am
(3) Amy says:

no,because cats and humans are a different reality altogether so…no.

April 20, 2008 at 9:22 am
(4) Tracy says:

You’re best bet is to ask your Vet about this. He/She can tell you the actual reality about this question. I have wondered about this as well.
I think the next time I go to my Vet I will find this out too. Good Question!

April 21, 2008 at 7:52 am
(5) Ethel Bungalow says:

YES! Your cat can, in fact, catch your cold. My cat Wiskerbiscuit DIED from catching my cold as a result of sharing a spoonful of food. I would feed her a spoon full of my dinner when she would sit next to my dinner plate. I live alone and getting on in years so I welcome any kind of affection and what is more loving than that?

Wiskerbiscuit caught a fatal cold that my vet said was likely transmitted from me to her while I had the stomach flu. I still think about it to this day.

April 21, 2008 at 1:40 pm
(6) Kim Martucci says:

Ethel, that is a sad story. Did the vet say HOW Wiskerbiscuit may have contracted the sickness? I’d like to avoid making the same mistake.

April 21, 2008 at 9:51 pm
(7) chris says:

ethel-
i’m so sorry about your cat. but cats can not catch colds from humans and vice versa.

April 21, 2008 at 9:57 pm
(8) chris says:

ethel-
i forgot to mention that although cats cannot catch colds from humans,they do catch colds.they sneeze just like us too.infact,it’s not uncommon especially for outdoor cats. it only becomes a problem if they have discharge from their nose or eyes, then they will need antibiotics. our cat was sick last year and he sneezed out blood (we were worried sick)but antibiotics did the trick.good luck.

April 22, 2008 at 4:13 am
(9) Betty says:

Ethel,
Very Very sorry about Wisker. Just like human, as my vet tells me when am worried when my elderly cats are sick, life and death are in the hands of our Creator – God. You say you are alone/lonely – why not welcome another one or two cats – there are alot needing a home – they are lovely unconditionally loving creatures. Plus this will alleviate the grief. I live alone too, had two cats, one passed last year in October due to age related kidney failure,now have one also aged cat but will this weekend adopt two homeless ones.

April 22, 2008 at 5:03 am
(10) Hassan says:

no she con not get the flu nore con she get the flu because they have a spechal subtens in there body i know because my mom and dad are doctors and i have the cold and i have a cat.

April 23, 2008 at 1:14 pm
(11) Agness Johnson says:

My cat Melvin caught my arthritic joints.

April 24, 2008 at 1:34 pm
(12) Jessica says:

I’ve always heard that cats cannot catch a common cold from humans because their normal body temperature — about 104 degrees — is too high for the bug to thrive. I’m kind of suspicious about the stomach flu, though, after hearing Ethel’s story. That’s just awful.

April 24, 2008 at 6:12 pm
(13) Jackson says:

Some commenters seem to be confusing “cold” and “stomach flu”.

April 26, 2008 at 1:59 pm
(14) pldrake says:

I truly recommend cats as cuddling company when recovering from an illness. I needed a mastectomy in 2000; my two cats HobieCat and Sophie offer careful cuddling when I got home. I’d been concerned they might cause some damage as I was healing but they seemed to know where to sit or lay down beside me and were never a problem, but rather kept my spirits up when I was feeling low. Eight years later, I still have Sophie (we lost Hobiecat just a year after my surgery) and she’s still great company at age 15.

May 6, 2008 at 3:40 am
(15) Claudia B. says:

Hello! I think its interesting I see alot of people are 50/ 50 about this question… I have three cats and one dog and my fiance was sick last week from a cold he caught from a co worker a few days later Cloe the baby was sneezing up a storm and would cough and lost her “meow” it sounded all rusted… few days went by and I got a cold and Cloe sleeps right above my head in between me and my fiance, few days went by and Mosh had it too sneezing up a storm like me. my fiance and cloe are better now but Lucas and Mosh still have it I hope they get better soon as well as myself… Anyways to answer the question.. Yes, I do believe cats can catch our cold… although I cant say that I have caught it from them..

July 19, 2008 at 12:04 pm
(16) Lisa says:

Hi,
My story is a bit different. I recently decided to adopt a pet from our local animal shelter wanting to save a life and provide a pal for our 8-year old cat. CoCo was sneezing a bit so we took her to the vet. She had an upper respiratory infection and was sent home with medication. I also had to syringe feed her since she wasn’t eating. When cats can’t smell, they won’t eat/drink. My vet suggested that I keep CoCo seperate from Tigger for a few days since URI is very contagious. Well, Tigger got the infection anyway and I took her to the vet. It turns out that not only did Tigger have the infection, but she also had caught something from my husband. He was sick for about a week, in bed, with 102 fever. I believe that due to both factors, Tigger got even more sick. The vet was able to get the URI under control but unfortunately, she developed pneumonia and was not able to fight it. My kitten is fine and doing “kitten” things but I am still in shock/disbelief over Tigger. Be very careful when getting a new kitten and make sure it gets to the vet immediately for shots and a check-up. I do believe that all lives are in the hands of God and that I did everything possible to help Tigger get better.

August 1, 2008 at 12:03 pm
(17) Loretta says:

I don’t know about that because I have two cats with respirtatory infections and now I an feeling sneezy and crappy with a head cold or something….they have been sleeping with me and sneezing all over the place…i think it’s a possibility. What are the chances?

September 14, 2008 at 8:27 pm
(18) Carissa says:

A lot of people believe that colds and similar viruses can be passed between humans and cats. However, speaking from a biology degree, such viruses are species-specific. Meaning, human cold viruses affect only humans, and cat cold viruses affect only cats. It is a coincidence if you both get sick. There are many viruses in our environment, both human and animal variety. So you both can get sick, but from separate viruses.

September 14, 2008 at 8:56 pm
(19) Franny Syufy says:

Thanks, Carissa!

It’s like saying, “It’s raining today and I have a sore throat. Therefore, rain must cause colds.”

December 28, 2008 at 12:42 pm
(20) tony says:

The wife and I have both got flu, hers is in her bones, mine in my stomach, and our 14 year old puss is very quiet at the moment, not his usual friendly smothering self. I have read that the virus needs to be at normal body temperature to thrive, which is why we get a fever as part of our body┤s defence. But then this bug is extremely adept at mutation, so if temperature is the only barrier then I suppose it could overcome this fairly easily?. I think maybe yes.

January 10, 2009 at 11:55 pm
(21) Trish says:

Okay, I’m not convinced either way since vets have always told me that viruses are indeed species specific but here’s my question. If I have been sick and I have all indoor cats that never go outside and they can’t catch it from me or my husband, do we bring it in on our shoes or clothes because now my cat is sick?!! I haven’t been around any other animals and it makes me wonder if there is something to what the other folks are saying. Biologists, should you go back to the drawing board? I’m not sure, just puzzled.

February 10, 2009 at 1:09 am
(22) Emily says:

Zoonosis
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
(Redirected from Zoonotic)
Jump to: navigation, search
Zoonosis
Classification and external resources
MeSH D015047
A zoonosis (pronounced /ˌzoʊəˈnoʊsɨs/) or zoonose is any infectious disease that is able to be transmitted (in some instances, by a vector) from other animals, both wild and domestic, to humans or from humans to animals (the latter is sometimes called reverse zoonosis). The word is derived from the Greek words z˛on (animal) and nosos (ill). Many serious diseases fall under this category.

The simplest definition of a zoonosis is a disease that can be transmitted from other vertebrate animals to humans. A slightly more technical definition is a disease that normally exists in other animals, but also infects humans.

The emerging interdisciplinary field of conservation medicine, which integrates human and veterinary medicine, and environmental sciences, is largely concerned with zoonoses.

***This is what happened to our family after taking in a sick kitten. Many tests and money spent on all or pets and family we were all diagnosed with a zoonotic illness.***

February 10, 2009 at 6:00 pm
(23) Franny Syufy says:

Emily:
Thanks for letting Wikipedia confirm (or obfuscate) what I already said in my linked article.
:=)

February 22, 2009 at 11:40 am
(24) Susan says:

Twice now one of my cats has caught a cold from me, the full on sneezing and watery eyes. The first time I didn’t believe it, the second time I realised it had actually happened again. Now I go on the assumption that human colds do transmit to cats. I don’t care what the experts say, I have watched this happen in my own household.

March 22, 2011 at 4:09 pm
(25) Sharon says:

Me too — if I am really sick with a bad cold, one of my cats starts sneezing and coughing. My vet says that he’s seen this before — he doesn’t believe the current dogma that dogs and cats can’t catch our bugs.

February 28, 2009 at 8:07 am
(26) Maria says:

I agree Susan. My husband came home the other day with cold/flu symptoms. Yesterday, I began coughing and sneezing and last night my cat began sneezing all night(she sleeps next to my head) I’ve never seen her sneeze before.

March 14, 2009 at 9:48 pm
(27) Kim says:

This is all very interesting. My cat is sick right now, not eating or drinking. My hsb. has been sick the last couple of weeks. It’s the weekend and I haven’t been able to take my cat to the vet. I didnt’ know there was a emergency clinics for pets here until tonight while do an online search. Chelsea (my cat) hasn’t been eating or drinking. I have been able to get some water into her and I think she’s a bit better and moving around a little. I have heard her sneeze before but not today. I plan to take her to the vet in the morning to get checked out. At first, I thought she’d gotten into something outside. She goes out to go to the bathroom and sun bathe. She not strictly an indoor cat. But now I’m wondering if she didnt’ catch what my hsb. had. It flu/like symptoms though and not a stomach bug. Chelsea was throwing up too a couple of days ago. I didn’t think much about it at the time because she hacks up hair balls every once and a while. She’s never been sick before this week.

April 30, 2009 at 11:54 pm
(28) Em says:

I have a cold or flu( dont know the difference) and feel terrible. One day later my cat starts sneezing and licking his nose a lot. He is a house cat. How else could he of got sick? I have also given it to my boyfriend at the same time. There must be another explaination, does the virus mutate into a cat version?

June 30, 2009 at 7:36 pm
(29) Celeste says:

In answer to your question, and in correction of many of these answers….the answer is no. ‘cold’ virus’ have been stated to be species specific….which means they are not zoonotic (or transferable) between you and your pet.

Animals can become ill for a variety of reasons….as a certified vet assistant, i urge people to seek Veterinary advice on these issues because the ‘minor cold’ you cat is exhibiting can be due to a much more severe underlying problem. As far as ones cat dying from catching your cold…that is completely a farce, and this person needs to look at the facts of perhaps the cat had an underlying disease to begin with..

June 30, 2009 at 7:37 pm
(30) celeste says:

I further encourage you to seek a vet for information, and not the internet as misinformation can be critical to your pets recovery.

October 3, 2009 at 8:50 am
(31) Ali- vet assistant says:

Yes, some viruses are zoonotic. Meaning yes they can be transferred b/w different species such as people and cats. Parasites are easiest to transmit, such as ringworm. I recently had a viral infection in my eye, most likely from a patient who was sneezing all over me (patient meaning cat). However in order to prove it dna testing on the virus would be required, and viruses are successful because they mutate rapidly.
So always assume you can make your pets sick, wash your hands before touching or feeding them. Don’t sneeze/cough on them, and take them to the vet if they are sneezing or have a greenish-yellowish discharge from their nose or eyes.

November 21, 2009 at 2:12 pm
(32) Ronald Becker says:

Ever hear of Swine flu, or bird flu? therefore some flu’s are transferred from other species!

December 30, 2009 at 10:57 am
(33) Kathy says:

Just got back from the vet. Took my sneezing cat in for a checkup. When I mentioned that my husband was sick, she asked if he had the flu, as a cat can actually contract it from a human, though it’s not common. I thought it was interesting that she kept probing me for answers about my husband’s symptoms. I have never heard of cats catching an illness from their owners.

December 30, 2009 at 6:32 pm
(34) Franny Syufy says:

Kathy, many of us hadn’t until the H1N1 virus started surfacing in cats this year. Did your vet test your cat for that virus?

December 31, 2009 at 4:48 pm
(35) Edil says:

I am not adoctor or veterinarian but I understand that there are many dideases that are transmited from animals to humans ,so, it is very posible that this can work around.We humans have the idea that we can control even the viruses and the bacterias, havent anyone noticed how easily they can even kill us.Viruses and bacteria were here before us not the other way around. They have the power to change at any moment and use the species more convenient to survive.

January 1, 2010 at 10:09 pm
(36) Trudy says:

I have found that good nutrition makes all the difference in my cats health, I can’t stress this enough. The better their nutrition the better their immune system

January 21, 2010 at 10:51 pm
(37) Matthew L says:

I think it’s quite obvious that a virus can transfer between species. A virus is essentially a cell that mutates other cells in order to multiply itself. Why would a human cell make any difference from a cat cell if it’s going to change anyway?

February 3, 2010 at 5:11 am
(38) Cats says:

Always take the cat to a vet as they have a habbit of being very sensitive, even the hardy type of cat which i have two, may be suffering more than would appear… a very good diet will and does help them, it`s now January 2010 and i believe whole heartedly that a cold or flu virus is passing back and fore humans and cats. For over 40 yrs i have seen cats and dogs “catch the cold” from the humans in the household and nothing serious has come of it, however what i have been witnessing latley is myself catching the cold from a cat; i only felt ill for two days and at the first signs of cold from the cat i disinfected everywhere, this came from a outdoor neighbourhood cat who pops into my house for extra food…… out of my two cats only one is showing any symptoms and they are head ache, blocked up nose, no fever or temperature as of yet; and i estimate it`s been around five days since the cold being first contracted and the obvious signs have only been displayed in last 48 hrs….. out of my two cats this one has had less antibioctic treatment than the other ( they came as separate stray kittens)..the ill one is male and three yrs old now; six months older than the female. also the male eats dry food which the outdoor neighbourhood cat sneaking in does so they have shared from the same bowl, the female will not eat dry food.

November 2, 2010 at 7:31 am
(39) Rita says:

I had a cat for 20 years. Buddy and I never shared any diseases. He never caught any of my colds and i never caught any of his. I have read many articles that cats and humans don’t transmit diseases to each other. So no i don’t believe they can.

November 16, 2010 at 6:54 pm
(40) Aaron says:

I think it depends on the cat, as I have had many many cats over the years as growing up my mom was a cat-lady. Now I have 1 cat named Chester. (and yes he’s an orange tabby hah) well long story short him and I are usually inseparable. He even sleeps right by me every night of his life. Now, as long as Ive had him, everytime I get a cold, he gets a cold. At one time I believed that this wasnt possible. But after 3 years of observation the proof is in the pudding as they say. I cant say for a fact th all cats can catch colds from humans, but I know for a fact that Chester catches just about every single cold I get. No BS, I have a cold right now and so does he and for years this is how it has worked. So I think its really just depends. Some people never catch colds, some people catch every cold they come in contact with. I think its the same way with cats. Cause I could pick examples for sides of this debate from my history with cats. So the only logical conclusion is that it depends on the cat.

February 26, 2011 at 9:42 pm
(41) Melissa says:

I am sick and have been blowing my nose into tissues and throwing them in the trash can I put beside my bed. I also have coughing attacks so bad I hack up stuff and actually puke a little at times into the trash can as well~ Well I went out to the store for medicine and came back to the trash empty all over the floor~and disgusting as it may be I think my cat licked and ate through my garbage so I am guessing he is going to get sick also.

March 21, 2011 at 9:26 am
(42) julie says:

i would like to add my comments to the debate. for 5 years i didnt catch a cold or flu despite working with the public. then 2 years ago i got a cat and took it to the vets for a flu jab. within a day or two my cat had flu like symptoms caused by the vaccination and so did i. i asked at the vets if i could have caught it from my cat and they said that it was common. my cat is a house cat and does not go out, neither do i have visitors, only very rarely. i have now got another cold and my cat is sneezing despite never going out. whatever some people say about it being species specific it really is quite obvious that colds and flus can be passed back and forth between cats and humans

April 26, 2011 at 9:28 pm
(43) Carol says:

I have been sick with bacterial pneumonia for three weeks. I did not think my cat could catch an illness from me, however, I do think so now. For two days she has not eaten anything, is very lethargic, and her eyes are watering. I am taking her to the vet in the morning. Typically she is like my little shadow…follows me from room to room, sleeps with me at night. Currently she is just staying in the bedroom. She is not her self at all. I hope I didn’t pass my disease to her! I will find out tomorrow.
She is five years old and an indoor cat.

December 29, 2011 at 2:59 am
(44) Stella says:

While I understand the theories behind the thoughts that virus/bacterias do not pass between species, I think there is enough evidence to prove otherwise all around us. If bugs were not able to cross-contaminate between species, why are we susceptible to the bird flu?

All I know is that my husband came down sick last week with a very strong cold/virus that had been going around his office. This week, our two indoor-only cats are now not feeling well, with raspy meows, watery eyes and a little bit of runny nose. They would have had to catch my husband’s bug – he was the only thing sick in the house. We have no other pets, don’t have other folks in, so it had to be him. I am going to try ocean water (saline solution) in their little noses (only do one side per session so they are not totally clogged up) to see if it can help open things up. Our oldest boy just looks like he’s been drug through a knothole backwards, and looks at me as if to say “fix it!”.
Both have healthy appetites, drink normally and litter normally, so it isn’t crisis stage yet, but we’ll probably end up there soon.

Remember that scientists are still experimenting. They don’t know everything, and things surprise them all the time. Any cat owner can tell you that shared sneezes, a shared spoon (or lick of something off of a finger of their owner who has a cold) all can end up with you both being sick.

December 29, 2011 at 9:19 pm
(45) marie says:

yes cats and dogs can get cold from humans i have a 3 yrs old cat right now with a cold that he got from me a few days ago u have to keep them hydrated and force feed til can reach a vet….

January 8, 2012 at 4:46 pm
(46) RomanMCM says:

Anyone who thinks a cat can catch a human cold has sailed off the edge at some point in their history. It would have been discovered and well documented years ago if it were true. I think your vet knows more about these things than you. People believe what they want to believe, especially when it comes to their pets.

August 6, 2012 at 6:18 pm
(47) qwerty? says:

cats do catch colds, there are zoonotic diseases but there’s also anthropozoonosis, and yes some viruses are species specific but that doesnt mean that just one type of microorganism is gonna cause an infection in your cat or yourself… In any case always take your pets to the Vet and please do not administrate your own medication to your pet (just saying xD)

August 7, 2012 at 7:14 pm
(48) Franny Syufy says:

Good advice, Querty.

September 18, 2012 at 4:59 pm
(49) Just Goes 2 Show says:

As #43/Carol had experienced- us too. I have M pneumonae which pops out in Walking Pneumonia whenever my immune is low, last spring sure enough Another occurance. Accidentally sneezed on cat & after a few days she became very Ill w M haemophilus. Almost died, still shows lingering effect tho no longer acutely Ill. MycoPlasma is weird business & very poorly understood. irrational to keep insisting cats & humans can’t pass bugs to each other just becoz it’s established Vet Dogma for so long. Arrogant writer who said sthg about falling off edge for disputing conventional belief needs to research history, science shows itself to be a fluid subject, it is usually independent thinkers daring to break tradition who end up proving Perceived Reality vs Actual Reality often much different things! OBSERVE, man, OBSERVE!

January 14, 2013 at 2:59 pm
(50) Cheryl says:

My youngest cat (7hrs) was hand raised by me after being abandoned by mom, so he is very close to me in every sense. He follows me everywhere, and when he cuddles he is nose to nose with me, and when I sleep he puts his paws on either side of my head and rests his head down on my pillow. Four times now I have caught cold and within a day of my catching it he starts sneezing, runny nose and the cuddle marathons begin. I know what the experts say but my own experience leads me to believe otherwise. Now I also believe in science and I guess what I think is that science needs to reopen this issue and investigate again. I wonder if some of these viruses have not mutated in a way that makes this possible. I cannot deny what I have seen with my own eyes four times now.

February 27, 2013 at 11:35 pm
(51) Michael says:

FACT: viruses can be shared between species, including humans and cats. Some examples of feline zoonoses include rabies, influenza, coronaviruses (like SARS), cowpox, psittacosis, even chlamydia.
(Yes, Roman, discovered and documented.)

FACT: there are over 200 viruses associated with “the common cold.”

There’s no reason not to think that some of these viruses can’t be shared with cats.

March 1, 2013 at 2:01 pm
(52) Kam says:

I dont care what that vet says, viruses can certainly pass to human from cats and vice versa. I went to check out cats to adopt the other day. They were all sneezing and sick. The lady said they all had upper respiratory infection. About 12 days later I got the weirdest cold in my chest. One Ive never had before because it started in my chest and always my cold travels through my throat first. So I dont care what anyone says, I know those kitties gave it to me. I dont go on book knowledge if my experience contradicts it, Im going on what I can personally attest to so I dont get sick again!

March 12, 2013 at 2:17 am
(53) Leon says:

Ethel-
Your cat died knowing you loved him/her, and that your generosity had only good intent. If anything is going to die, it’s best to die happy.

April 2, 2014 at 6:13 pm
(54) Cleveland says:

My cat is very needy and loving – he constantly is in my face. I’ve had him for 15 years and he has been exposed to many of my sinus infections and some bronchitis.

He’s never had a cold and he’s never been sick from one.

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