Have you noticed your cat sneezing more often than usual? Cats can sneeze for various reasons, just like humans. Persistent or severe sneezing though, can be a sign of an underlying health issue that requires medical attention. As a cat parent, it’s important to know the causes of cat sneezing and how to care for your feline friend. In this article, we’ll discuss the common reasons why cats sneeze, available treatment options, and tips on how to care for a sneezing cat at home.
Why is my cat sneezing?
If you hear an explosive expulsion of air from your cat’s nose, it is most likely a sneeze. Sneezing in cats is a perfectly normal bodily function, which removes irritants or secretions from the upper airways.
An occasional individual sneeze or cluster of sneezes is not usually anything to worry about. Just like humans, cats get a ‘tickle in their nose’ and will sneeze to clear their airways. However, sometimes a cat keeps sneezing as a result of an underlying health problem.
When should I worry about my cat sneezing?
Occasional sneezing in cats is generally not a cause for concern. However, there are certain situations where you should seek veterinary attention, particularly if your cat is sneezing persistently or frequently. If your cat’s sneezing is accompanied by other symptoms like a runny nose, coughing, or eye discharge, it could be cat flu or another medical condition.
Another red flag to watch out for is blood in your cat’s nasal discharge or any signs of breathing difficulties, such as wheezing or an increased respiratory rate. Or, if your cat is also showing signs of lethargy, decreased appetite, or other signs of illness.
In general, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and seek veterinary attention if you’re concerned about your cat’s sneezing or other symptoms. Your vet can perform a thorough examination, diagnose the underlying cause, and recommend appropriate treatment to get your cat feeling better.
Common reasons why your cat is sneezing
Sneezing in cats can be caused by a variety of factors, ranging from benign irritants to more serious conditions. It’s important to understand the different reasons why your cat may be sneezing so that you can seek appropriate veterinary care when necessary.
1. Allergies or irritants
Cats can develop allergies to a variety of environmental factors such as dust (including litter box dust), pollen, mites, certain foods, strong odors, perfumes, or even household cleaning products. When a cat is exposed to an allergen or irritant, their immune system responds by releasing histamines, which can cause inflammation and irritation of the respiratory system, leading to sneezing, coughing, and other symptoms.
2. Inhaled foreign object
Cats are curious and can accidentally inhale foreign objects such as dust, grass, insects or hair. These objects can cause irritation and inflammation of the nasal passages, leading to sneezing as they try to expel the object. In some cases, the object can become lodged in the nasal cavity, leading to more severe respiratory symptoms.
3. Viral respiratory infections
Respiratory infections, such as feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus, are common in cats. They can cause sneezing, coughing and other chronic upper respiratory symptoms. These infections are highly contagious and can spread quickly between cats in close proximity, particularly in multi-cat households and shelters.
Our ginger girl, Amber had feline herpesvirus as kitten. She suffers from recurring respiratory issues every year during the colder winter months. Her symptoms include constant sneezing, followed by watery eyes and nasal congestion – she snores like a freight train! She’s also less active than usual and has a poor appetite.
4. Bacterial respiratory infections
Bacterial infections, such as Bordetella bronchiseptica, Chlamydophila felis, and Mycoplasma felis, can also cause sneezing in cats. Other symptoms of bacterial respiratory infection may include: nasal discharge, coughing, congestion, loss of appetite, lethargy and in some cases, fever. These infections can be more severe and persistent than viral infections and will require treatment with antibiotics.
5. Fungal infections
Fungal infections, such as aspergillosis, cryptococcosis or histoplasma, can cause sneezing and other respiratory symptoms in cats. In some cases, they can also cause facial swelling. These infections are usually more severe and can be difficult to treat, particularly in immunocompromised cats.
6. Dental disease
Dental disease can lead to inflammation and infection of the gums and teeth, which can cause inflammation and irritation of the nasal passages and sinuses. This can cause sneezing and other respiratory symptoms in cats.
7. Sinus or nasal inflammation
Chronic inflammation of the sinuses or nasal passages, due to infections, allergies, or irritants, can trigger the sneezing reflex in cats. This can continue for some time after the cause of the inflammation has been treated, as the sensitive nasal mucosa takes some time to return to normal.
8. Nasal polyps and tumours
Nasal polyps and tumours, both benign and malignant, can cause obstruction of the nasal passages and lead to sneezing, discharge from the nose, and other respiratory symptoms. These growths can be difficult to diagnose and treat, particularly if they are malignant.
9. Vaccine or medication reaction
Some cats have an allergic reaction to vaccines or medications (especially nasal sprays or drops), leading to sneezing and other respiratory symptoms. These reactions can range from mild to severe, and will usually happen wihtin a few hours of vaccination or taking a medication. Prompt veterinary attention is necessary.
10. Congenital Issues
Rarely, cats can be born with congenital abnormalities of the respiratory system or nasal passages. These obstruct the flow of air and cause sneezing and other respiratory symptoms. These abnormalities can be difficult to diagnose and treat and may require specialist intervention.
Cats with short, flattened faces such as Persian, Exotic Shorthair or Himalayan cats may sneeze more frequently than other cats. This is due to their short noses and narrow nasal passages which may make them more susceptible to nasal irritation and respiratory symptoms. Similarly, Siamese and Oriental cats may also be more prone to nasal irritation and sneezing. Hairless and rexed breeds such as the Devon Rex and Sphynx may also be more susceptive to environmental allergens and irritants, which may trigger them to sneeze more easily.
If your cat is sneezing frequently or exhibiting other respiratory symptoms, it is important to seek veterinary attention promptly. Your veterinarian can help diagnose the underlying cause of your cat’s symptoms and recommend appropriate treatment to help your cat feel better.
Your Veterinarian can diagnose the cause of your cats sneezing
Your veterinarian will typically begin by performing a physical examination and taking a detailed medical history. It is a good idea to keep a record at home to identify any patterns. Is there a particular time of the day when your cat sneezes more than normal? What is your cat doing or are they in a particular location? Has something changed in your home environment?
During the examination, your vet will look for any signs of respiratory distress or abnormalities in your cat’s nose or throat. Your vet may recommend diagnostic tests to help confirm the diagnosis. These tests may include blood work, urinalysis, chest x-rays, and a nasal or throat swab to check for infection.
In some cases, your vet may also recommend more specialized tests, such as a CT scan or rhinoscopy. A rhinoscopy involves inserting a thin tube with a camera into the cat’s nose to visualize the nasal passages and look for any abnormalities. Your cat may need a light sedative or general anaesthesia for these diagnostic tests to be carried out.
Treatment options for sneezing cats
The treatment options for sneezing in cats will depend on the underlying cause of the problem. Several diagnostic tests may be required first. If no specific cause of the sneezing is found, your veterinarian may recommend symptomatic treatment.
If sneezing and respiratory problems are caused by a bacterial or fungal infection, your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics or antifungal medication to clear up the infection. Antibiotics are often also prescribed to cats with respiratory viruses in the event of a secondary bacterial infection.
Allergies or irritants can be managed by making changes to your cat’s environment. For example, using hypoallergenic bedding, avoiding exposure to cigarette smoke, or keeping your cat indoors during the spring and summer seasons when there is a high pollen count. If the allergen cannot be removed or if the allergy is more severe, your cat may be prescribed medication such as antihistamines and corticosteroids to alleviate their symptoms.
In cases of dental disease, dental treatment under general anaesthesia may be necessary, along with follow-up dental care. In cases of a blockage in the nasal cavity, such as nasal polyps, foreign bodies, or tumours, surgery may be necessary.
It is vital to follow your veterinarian’s treatment plan and monitor your cat’s symptoms closely. If symptoms persist or worsen despite treatment, follow up with your veterinarian for further evaluation.
How to care for sneezing cats at home
If your cat is sneezing a lot, there are a few things you can do at home to help them feel more comfortable.
Make sure your cat has access to plenty of fresh water to stay hydrated, as this can help loosen up any mucus in their nasal passages. You can also use a humidifier or place your cat in a steamy bathroom for 10-15 minutes a day to help soothe their respiratory system.
If your cat has nasal discharge, gently clean the area with a pet wipe or damp cotton ball. Ensure that your cat is kept in a clean and dust-free environment, and try to minimize exposure to potential irritants such as cigarette smoke or strong perfumes. Household cleaning products can irritate the sensitive mucosa in your cat’s respiratory tract, so switch to unscented versions or natural cleaning products instead. Vacuum or wash soft furnishings regularly to keep household dust to a minimum.
A reduced appetite is common in cats with respiratory problems, as they cannot smell or taste food properly. Offer highly palatable (strong smelling) wet food that has been gently warmed up to encourage your cat to eat.
Finally, monitor your cat’s behaviour and symptoms closely, and seek veterinary attention if you notice any changes or worsening of their condition.