Cat Sneezes. Symptom or Allergy?


While an occasional sneeze is perfectly normal for cats, frequent or prolonged sneezing may be a sign of sickness. This article provides an overview of the common causes of sneezing in cats, including both benign reasons as well as potentially serious illnesses. We’ll explore how cats’ respiratory systems work, symptoms that may indicate a health problem, how vets diagnose sneezing issues, possible treatments, when you should seek medical care for a sneezy cat, and how to help prevent unhealthy sneezing episodes.

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Normal Causes of Sneezing in Cats

It’s common for cats to sneeze occasionally, just like humans. Sneezing is a normal body function that helps clear irritants or foreign particles from the nasal passages. Some common benign causes of sneezing in cats include:

Irritants like dust or pollen – Cats can be sensitive to particles in the air that tickle their nasal passages and trigger sneezing as a protective reflex. Exposure to household dust, carpet powders, litter dust, or outdoor pollens or pollutants can all cause sneezing fits.

Foreign bodies stuck in nostrils – Curious cats may end up with small pieces of grass, dirt, food, or other debris lodged in their nasal cavity, which causes irritation and sneezing until dislodged. Nasal foreign bodies are more common in younger cats and kittens.

Allergies – Allergies to pollen, mold, dust mites, flea bites, or certain foods can also cause chronic sneezing and nasal inflammation in cats. Cats usually rub their face and nose excessively when sneezing from allergies.

How Cats’ Noses Work

A cat’s nose contains complex structures that allow it to have an extremely powerful sense of smell. The nose consists of the nasal planum on the exterior, and the nasal passages and sinuses internally (Source). The nasal planum is the bare part containing the nostrils, separated by the philtrum. Inside, the nasal cavity is divided into left and right sides by the nasal septum, and contains turbinate bones covered in olfactory epithelium that detect scents.

Cats have nearly 200 million scent receptors in this olfactory epithelium, compared to only 5 million for humans (Source). This makes their sense of smell about 14 times better than humans. The scent molecules bind to receptors that send signals to the olfactory bulb and then the brain for processing. This allows cats to detect faint or hidden scents imperceptible to humans. A cat’s powerful nose is critical for functions like finding food, avoiding danger, bonding with other cats, and much more.

When Sneezing May Indicate Illness

While the occasional sneeze is normal, if a cat begins sneezing more frequently or has fits of repeated sneezes, it could signal an underlying health issue. Some of the more common illnesses associated with cat sneezing include:

Upper respiratory infections – Cats can get upper respiratory infections (URIs) from viruses or bacteria that irritate the nasal passages and sinuses. URIs often cause thick nasal discharge, congestion, and excessive sneezing. Feline herpesvirus (FHV-1) and feline calicivirus (FCV) are two of the most common viral URIs in cats. Bacterial infections like Bordetella bronchiseptica can also lead to URI symptoms.

Nasal mites – Nasal mites are microscopic parasites that live in a cat’s nasal passages and sinuses. An infestation can irritate the nasal tissue, resulting in chronic sneezing and nasal discharge. Mites are diagnosed through a vet exam and treated with anti-parasitic medication.

Tumors or polyps – Abnormal growths in a cat’s nasal passages or sinuses can cause obstruction that leads to sneezing. Benign polyps or malignant tumors often cause additional symptoms like bloody discharge or facial deformity. Imaging tests help diagnose sinus tumors or polyps, which may require surgery for treatment.

Other Symptoms to Watch For

In addition to sneezing, there are other symptoms that may indicate an underlying illness in cats:

Discharge from nose/eyes – Excessive nasal discharge or drainage from the eyes often accompanies infections like upper respiratory infections. The discharge is typically thick and discolored. Discharge indicates inflammation in the nasal passages or eyes.

Coughing – A wet, hacking cough can suggest respiratory illness like bronchitis. Coughing is the body’s way of trying to expel mucus from the airways. Persistent coughing warrants veterinary attention.

Fever – An elevated body temperature often accompanies infection. Take your cat’s temperature at home if sneezing persists. A normal temp is 100-102.5°F. Temps over 103°F indicate fever.

Lethargy – Sick cats tend to have diminished energy levels. Lethargy, lack of appetite, and hiding are common with illnesses. Monitor your cat’s behavior closely if sneezing continues.

Pay attention for other concerning symptoms in addition to sneezing. Multiple symptoms suggest a veterinary exam is needed to pinpoint the cause and treat any infection.

Diagnosing the Cause

When cats have frequent sneezing that doesn’t seem to go away on its own, it’s a good idea to take them to the vet for an examination. The vet will go through a thorough physical check, looking in the nose, mouth, and throat for any visible signs of irritation, infection, or foreign objects lodged in the nasal passages. They will also feel for any obstructions in the nose or throat.

The vet may recommend imaging tests to get a closer look inside the nasal passages and sinuses. X-rays or CT scans can reveal bone damage, masses, polyps, or other issues that could be causing irritation. According to PuggyPups, these tests may require sedation or anesthesia to get clear images, but they provide valuable diagnostic information.

Lab tests are also useful for identifying sneezing causes. The vet may take samples from the nose or throat to test for bacterial, fungal, or viral infections. Bloodwork can check for underlying conditions like allergies, autoimmune disease, or respiratory infections. Together with the physical exam and imaging, these test results help vets pinpoint why a cat is sneezing persistently.

Treating Cats with Frequent Sneezing

If your cat is sneezing frequently, the first step is to identify and treat any underlying illness. Cats with allergies may benefit from antihistamines or corticosteroids prescribed by a veterinarian. Upper respiratory infections are usually treated with antibiotics. In some cases, medications can help reduce chronic sneezing and provide relief.

Certain lifestyle changes may also help minimize sneezing episodes. Reducing stress, avoiding environmental irritants like cigarette smoke, and using air filters and humidifiers can make a difference. Keeping your home clean and free of dust helps eliminate allergens. You can also talk to your vet about diet recommendations.

Over-the-counter remedies are not generally recommended for treating sneezing in cats. However, some homeopathic options like echinacea or goldenseal may provide minor relief. It’s important not to give cats any medication without veterinary approval. The most effective way to treat chronic sneezing is to identify and address the underlying cause with guidance from your vet.

When to See the Vet

If your cat’s sneezing is persistent and lasts more than a few days without improvement, it’s time to take them to the vet. Prolonged sneezing episodes can be a sign of an underlying illness that requires treatment. According to Ethos Veterinary Health, you should schedule a veterinary visit if the sneezing continues beyond 2-3 days.

You should also take your cat to the vet sooner if the sneezing is accompanied by other concerning symptoms. These include nasal discharge, especially if it is yellow, green, or bloody. Labored breathing, breathing through the mouth, wheezing or snoring can also indicate respiratory distress. Lethargy, loss of appetite and fever may point to infection. Carson Veterinary Clinic advises monitoring your cat closely and seeking veterinary attention if any of these symptoms develop alongside frequent sneezing.

Getting an accurate diagnosis from your vet is important, as it will determine the right treatment plan. They can perform tests to identify potential causes like allergies, upper respiratory infections, dental disease, foreign objects, tumors or polyps. With proper care guided by your vet, your sneezing cat can get back to feeling their best.

Preventing Unhealthy Sneezing

There are some steps cat owners can take to help prevent excessive or unhealthy sneezing in their feline companions:

First, avoid irritants in the home environment that can trigger sneezing. Things like scented candles, cleaning products, air fresheners, and even dust can irritate a cat’s sensitive respiratory system. Use unscented products and keep the home well-ventilated and free of dust buildup.

Maintaining vaccinations is also key. Make sure your cat is up-to-date on vaccines like feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus, which can cause upper respiratory infections leading to sneezing. Annual vet checkups help ensure full protection.

Finally, sneezing can sometimes signal stress in cats. Reduce anxious triggers by providing a consistent routine, keeping their environment calm, giving them “safe spaces” to retreat to, and using calming aids like Feliway diffusers if needed. A relaxed cat is less prone to stress-related sneezing episodes.


The Bottom Line

In summary, it’s common for cats to sneeze occasionally due to irritation from dust or other particles. Mild, infrequent sneezing by itself is usually not a cause for concern. However, persistent, excessive sneezing can potentially indicate a respiratory infection or other illness. It’s important to monitor for other symptoms like nasal discharge, coughing, wheezing, lethargy, or loss of appetite. If these additional symptoms are present, or if the sneezing is frequent and severe, it’s best to have your cat examined by a vet. They can check for underlying issues and provide proper treatment if needed. With appropriate care, most causes of sneezing are manageable. While occasional sneezes are normal, be alert for any changes in sneezing patterns or other signs of sickness. This can help ensure your cat stays happy and healthy.

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