Snuffles... not to be sneezed at

20th Dec, 2016


I recently adopted four little rescued feral kittens who were posted on Facebook as looking for Forever Homes – possibly to be homed together. Having been saved from a shopping centre roof, my heart just melted and I immediately offered them a home. While travel arrangements were kindly being made to get them to me, they developed snuffles, but were fortunately successfully treated by their vet.

Not being in the same town, I never got the chance to ask the vet about snuffles.

  • What causes snuffles?
  • Can they get it again?
  • Once a cat gets snuffles, is it contagious beforehand and for how long after treatment?
  • Will having had snuffles compromise their immunity? And should I be boosting theirs with any supplement?
  • For vaccinations, should I do them immediately or wait +-2 weeks for them to settle in before vaccinating?

I am so happy that we chose to adopt these babies. They’ve adjusted easily, settled in well, and already play wonderfully with my other cats. What a pleasure it is to have them in our lives.

Julie Smale – Eshowe, KZN



Snuffles refers to infections in the upper respiratory tracts of cats. Kittens and stressed and/or immune compromised cats are more susceptible to snuffles. These felines also tend to develop a more severe form of snuffles that lasts longer and is more difficult to treat (similar to a cold that becomes bronchitis/sinusitis in people).

The main infectious agents causing snuffles are Feline Herpes Virus (‘herpes’) and Feline Calici Virus (‘calici’). These two viruses account for more than 90% of all cases. Other pathogens, including Chlamydia, Mycoplasma and Bordetella may also lead to snuffles. Cats can also be infected by more than one at a time.

Just like colds in people, a cat that has been infected with herpes or calici viruses is unlikely to be infected by that exact virus again. They may, however, be infected with another virus, for example, a cat could contract calici if they had herpes, and vice versa. Cats may also go on to develop a chronic infection or have relapses if they are carriers of either virus. Chlamydia, Bordetella, Mycoplasma and other bacterial or fungal infectious agents can recur. All cats that develop snuffles as a result of herpes are thought to become carriers, while around 50% of calici snuffles cats become carriers.

In carriers, stresses such as surgery, boarding, or the introduction of a new feline companion commonly induce a fresh Herpes upper respiratory episode about a week after the stressful event, with active virus shedding for another couple of weeks. These episodes may recur for the life of the cat, although, as they mature, symptoms become less and less severe and, ultimately, may not be noticeable to the owner.

Snuffles is contagious (to cats only) and it is thought to be at its most contagious during the incubation period. Cats with herpes are contagious for a couple of weeks after recovery; those with calici for several months after infection, although they do not have recurrences as often as cats with herpes do.

Calici carriers may shed virus (contagious) continuously or intermittently, and may even do so for life, though about 50% of infected cats seem to stop shedding virus at some point.

A cat or kitten that recovers completely from snuffles should have no problems with immunity. Exceptions include cats with chronic snuffles, which have underlying Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV) or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), or where the respiratory tract or eye/s have been damaged. These cats will be susceptible to secondary infections of the eye and/or respiratory tract in future – in some cases, cats can go blind from herpes infection, so fast treatment is crucial.

Cats that take longer to recover may benefit from an L-lysine oral supplement to help fight the virus and vitamin B12 injections to increase appetite (consult your vet for advice).

Kittens that have overcome snuffles should ideally not be vaccinated for seven days afterwards to ensure that they are fully recovered. It is not advisable to vaccinate any sick animal as its immune system is not strong enough.

Note: If your adopted cat or kitten has a runny nose, is sneezing or coughing, seems listless, and does not want to eat, please consult your veterinarian immediately.