Everyone sneezes from time to time, including your cat and other pets. It’s the body’s explosive (and usually effective) response to ridding itself of things that are irritating your pet’s nasal passage.
But if you’ve noticed that your cat is sneezing a LOT – back-to-back sneezing fits, throughout the day, every day. Is this something to worry about?
Sneezing and Nasal Discharge
If your cat is sneezing and/or has a discharge from her nose, it could be due to many reasons:
- a tickle in the nose
- a respiratory infection
- an allergy or a tumor (see below).
The discharge from your cat’s nose may look clear, cloudy or yellow/green, and could even be a little bloody. Blood in the nasal discharge is to be taken seriously since it could indicate a sign of an infection, an injury, or even a bleeding disorder or tumor.
Sometimes these sneezing episodes and/or nasal discharge are accompanied by other symptoms that indicate a more serious nasal or sinus disease. Look for the following in your kitty:
- Rubs or paws at her face
- Swallows often
- Runs a fever
- Bleeds from the nose
- Has a nasty smell coming from her nose or mouth
- Breathes loudly, wheezes or coughs
- Is lethargic
- Has loss of appetite
- Has signs of diarrhea
If you think any of these symptoms seem severe or happen frequently on a recurring basis, take your cat to the vet because it may be a condition that requires professional treatment. Take the time to notate any problems that you have observed including frequency, timing etc so that you can provide your vet with as much information as possible. Cats are stoic creatures hence your cat may be quite sick before you realize it; a quick trip to consult with your vet is always a good idea in order to stay ahead of any potential problems.
Reasons Why Your Cat Might Be Sneezing
Nasal Passage Problems
Something is blocking and/or tickling your cat’s nasal passage. It could be a blade of grass or a hair, or something more substantial. Like all animals, cats will reflexively sneeze to try to dislodge the blockage.
Your cat has picked up a respiratory infection. It’s most often a viral infection (feline herpes virus and feline calicivirus are the most common), aka a “cat cold.” In addition to sneezing, your feline friend may also cough or have some tears from his eyes – these symptoms are similar to those that we humans feel and exhibit. Sometimes it’s a fungal infection that causes inflammation in the nasal passage. These infections are more common in young cats, especially in those coming from animal shelters where crowded conditions create problems, just as they do with humans who live under crowded circumstances. Many of these infections can be prevented with early and complete vaccinations (but see # 5 below).
Irritants and Allergies
Your cat has inhaled an irritant or something that he’s allergic to. If the only symptom you notice is that your cat is sneezing, it may be an allergy that’s irritating the nasal passages (note that allergies also often result in itchy skin). Here are some things that might be causing the sneezing:
- Cigarette smoke
- Cat litter
- Cleaning agents (see our blog on household cleaners here)
- Pest sprays
If you think your cat may be sneezing due to allergies, use the sneezing episodes to help pinpoint the allergen. For example, does she sneeze more after she uses the litter box or after you smoke a cigarette? Is she atchoo-ing more after you’ve cleaned the house or lit the romantic candles or applied perfume? Since cat noses are only a few inches off the ground/floor, consider that anything that you apply to the floor, carpet etc…will be in close contact with your cat’s nose and hence affect her respiratory system. Carefully observing her behavior may give you excellent clues.
Your cat may be having trouble with her teeth. Sometimes cats (especially older kitties) may suffer from dental disease (especially root infections), resulting in inflammation and drainage into the sinuses. This may cause sneezing and dental issues are not uncommon to cats. This is a case for the vet, as it won’t cure itself. Your cat’s breath may be a clue here since dental decay is always accompanied by an unpleasant odor. Try to watch your cat while she is eating, does her eating function appear normal or does she exhibit pain in eating her food or approach her bowl with trepidation and hesitation?
Your cat may be reacting to a vaccine. If your cat has received a vaccine to prevent respiratory infections, she may sneeze a lot for a few days afterward. This should only last for a few days and goes away without treatment. Again, if problems persist, do not hesitate to return to your vet to get it checked out.
Other Potential Issues
Miscellaneous other causes of excessive sneezing can include mucus irritation, excess nasal secretion, nasal polyps or tumors, pneumonia, gastrointestinal disease, and mites found in the nasal cavities. This is a tougher scenario and will take some dedication and time to diagnose and treat.
When To Go To The Veterinarian
It’s always a good idea to call the vet if:
- Your cat sneezes often or continuously
- The sneezing seems to be chronic
- You see blood in the nasal discharge
- You see any additional symptoms such as the ones listed above
The vet will do the tests and get the right diagnosis for the cause of your kitty’s sneezing fits. Depending on the diagnosis, the vet will be able to prescribe antibiotics, nasal decongestants and antihistamines, fluids or steroids if needed, as well as make great suggestions on how to help your cat feel more comfortable, provide nutritional support, and enhance her immune system to prevent recurrences in the future.