Does My Cat Have Allergies or a Cold? How to Tell the Difference and Provide Relief

Having a sneezy, snuffly feline friend? It can be tricky to tell whether your cat has allergies or a common cold. While the symptoms may seem similar at first glance, learning to distinguish between these two conditions can help you provide the right care and treatment for your kitty.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover all the key differences between feline allergies and upper respiratory infections (URIs). You’ll learn how to spot the telltale signs of each, when to see the vet, and how to soothe your sniffly kitty’s symptoms at home. Let’s dive in!

Symptoms: How to Tell a Cold Apart From Allergies in Cats

Cats with allergies and URIs often exhibit the following overlapping symptoms:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose and eyes
  • Coughing
  • Fatigue and lethargy

So how do you differentiate between the two? Here are some key indicators:

Allergy Symptom Giveaways

  • Itchy skin, excessive grooming
  • Hair loss
  • Ear inflammation and discomfort
  • Symptoms worsen at certain times of year

Cold Symptom Giveaways

  • Eye and nasal discharge are often yellow/green
  • Low-grade fever
  • Decreased appetite
  • Symptoms come on quickly and acute

Keep in mind that some cats may experience both conditions simultaneously. Pay close attention to when and where symptoms occur to pinpoint patterns and potential triggers.

For example, if your cat’s sneezing worsens every spring, pollen may be the culprit. But if she develops sniffles after playing with other kitties, an infectious URI is more likely. Track details over time to help differentiate between allergies and infection.

What Causes These Conditions in Cats?

Now let’s explore what leads to allergies and colds in the first place. Knowing the source will provide insight into the best treatment options.

Allergy Causes

Cats develop allergies when their immune system overreacts to ordinarily harmless substances like:

  • Pollen – From trees, grasses, weeds
  • Dust mites – Microscopic insects in dust
  • Mold spores – From damp environments
  • Certain proteins – Beef, dairy, fish, chicken

This triggers an inflammatory response leading to chronic allergy symptoms. Cats can develop new allergies at any age, making them tricky to diagnose.

Cold Causes

Upper respiratory infections in cats are caused by either:

  • Viral infection – Feline herpesvirus, calicivirus
  • Bacterial infection – Bordetella bronchiseptica, Chlamydophila felis

These contagious pathogens easily spread between cats in multi-pet homes and shelters. But cats can also catch a cold if their immune system is weakened by:

  • Stress
  • Poor nutrition
  • Inadequate hygiene
  • Other illness

So both allergies and colds stem from an overreaction of the immune system – just to different triggers.

Diagnosing the Cause of Sneezing and Sniffles

Since allergies and colds share so many comparable symptoms, diagnostic tests are often needed to pinpoint the precise cause.

Here are some tools your vet may use:

  • Bacterial culture – Swab the throat/nose to identify organisms
  • Bloodwork – Check for elevated white blood cells signaling infection
  • Intradermal skin testing – Inject allergen extracts to gauge reactions
  • Elimination diet – Remove suspect foods to check for improvements

These tests can help definitively diagnose allergies versus infection. They also rule out other possible illnesses causing similar symptoms.

Discuss testing options with your vet to get to the root of your cat’s sneezing and sniffling. The right diagnosis paves the way for targeted treatment.

Treating Cat Allergies Versus Colds at Home

Once you determine the cause of symptoms, you can implement the appropriate care plan. Here’s how to provide relief for allergies versus colds at home:

Soothing Allergy Symptoms

  • Control exposure to allergens – Vacuum regularly, wash bedding, use air purifiers
  • Antihistamines – Reduce inflammation and itchiness
  • Immunotherapy – Customized “allergy shots” to desensitize your cat
  • Omega-3 fatty acids – Support skin and coat health

The goal is to reduce contact with irritants and manage the inflammatory response. Avoidance and anti-itch remedies bring lasting allergy relief.

Easing Cold Symptoms

  • Rest and hydration – Allow extra sleep and tempt your cat to drink
  • Saline nasal rinses – Soothe nasal inflammation and clear discharge
  • Humidifier – Ease breathing with moisture-rich air
  • Nutritional support – Ensure adequate calories if appetite decreases
  • L-lysine supplements – Inhibit viral replication

Since URIs are caused by contagious pathogens, treatment focuses on supporting the immune system to fight infection. TLC and time usually lead to recovery within 1-2 weeks.

If symptoms don’t improve with home care after a few days, veterinary medication may be needed.

When to Visit the Vet for Sneezing and Sniffling

Contact your vet promptly if your cat exhibits any of the following:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Severe lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Green/yellow discharge from eyes/nose
  • No improvement after 5-7 days of home treatment

Worsening symptoms or high fever signal a possible secondary infection requiring antibiotics. Kittens, seniors, and immunocompromised cats are most vulnerable to complications. Don’t hesitate to call your vet if you have any concerns about your cat’s health.

How to Prevent URI’s and Allergies in Cats

While neither allergies nor colds can be fully prevented, you can reduce risk through:

Cold Prevention Tips

  • Vaccination – Against common cat flu viruses
  • Limit exposure to other cats – Especially in shelters or boarding facilities
  • Reduce stress – Major stress depresses the immune system
  • Optimize nutrition – Support immune health with quality protein and antioxidants

Allergy Prevention Tips

  • Control household allergens – Dust and vacuum frequently, wash bedding in hot water
  • Limit outdoor time – During high pollen times if pollen is a trigger
  • Avoid irritants – Perfumes, cleaning products, cigarette smoke
  • Review any new products – For ingredients that may trigger allergies

Proactive steps to promote wellness and avoid triggers can reduce sneezing and sniffles in susceptible cats. But some irritation may be inevitable, so be prepared to provide some TLC when those allergy and cold symptoms crop up.

FAQs: Common Questions About Cat Allergies and Colds

Still have some lingering questions about sniffly cats? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

Can cats get colds from humans?

No – cats and humans have different respiratory pathogens. But stress from changes in routine when an owner is sick can potentially depress a cat’s immune system.

How long do cat colds last?

With supportive care, feline URIs typically resolve within 7-14 days. If symptoms persist longer, an underlying illness or antibiotic-resistant bacteria may be involved.

What home remedy helps a cat with a cold?

Increasing humidity, saline rinses to clear nasal discharge, immune-supporting supplements, and gentle handling/rest help cats recover more comfortably at home. Never give OTC human cold medications.

Can cat allergies be cured?

There is no permanent cure for feline allergies. But symptoms can be controlled through avoiding triggers, medications to reduce inflammation, and desensitization therapy. Allergies involve an ongoing management process.

When should I take my cat to the vet for sneezing?

Contact your vet if sneezing persists more than 5-7 days, is severe, or accompanied by other symptoms like appetite loss or lethargy. Young, old, or immunocompromised cats should be evaluated sooner when sneezing.

The Takeaway: Monitor Symptoms Closely and Follow Up

Cats can develop allergy and URI symptoms that seem identical at first glance. But paying close attention to subtle differences over time provides clues to tell these two conditions apart.

Track details like timing, triggers, accompanying symptoms, and response to home treatment. Diagnostic tests can also pinpoint the source when the cause remains unclear.

Work closely with your veterinarian to ensure your sniffly kitty receives the right care plan. With some patience and TLC, your feline friend will be back to her usual cheerful self in no time!