Oh No! My Cat Sneezed in My Eye – Should I Be Worried?


We’ve all had it happen – you’re petting your cat or playing with them, and suddenly they let out a big sneeze right in your face! It’s a startling experience and may make you worried about catching something from your feline friend. Though an unpleasant surprise, a cat sneezing on you is usually harmless. However, there are some risks to be aware of.

In this article, we’ll cover what happens when cats sneeze, diseases they can transmit through sneezes, risks to humans, and how to prevent and treat cat sneezes to the eye. By the end, you’ll understand why a cat sneeze in the eye is generally nothing to worry about, but when you may need to take action.

What Happens When a Cat Sneezes

Cats sneeze for the same reason humans do – their bodies are trying to expel irritants from the nasal cavity. When something like dust, pollen, or other particles enter a cat’s nose, it irritates the sensitive mucous membranes lining the nasal passages. This irritation triggers a sneeze reflex (why cats sneeze: causes, symptoms and treatments).

During a sneeze, air is forcefully expelled through the nose and mouth. The cat’s eyes usually close, and the neck and head may extend as the powerful muscles used for sneezing contract. Sneezing helps clear the nasal passages of the irritants. It’s a protective reflex that may involve multiple rapid sneezes in a row.

However, frequent sneezing in cats can also be a sign of an underlying medical condition. While the occasional sneeze is normal, repeated episodes of sneezing or sneezing combined with other symptoms warrants a veterinary visit (Why Is My Cat Sneezing?).

Diseases Cats Can Transmit Through Sneezes

Cats can spread several contagious respiratory illnesses through sneezing. The most common include:

Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (FVR) – Also known as feline herpesvirus, FVR is highly contagious and causes upper respiratory symptoms like sneezing, runny eyes and nose. It spreads through direct contact with infected saliva, mucus or eye secretions. Most cats contract it as kittens and become lifelong carriers. Stress can trigger flare-ups and shedding of the virus. https://www.webmd.com/pets/cats/why-cats-sneeze

Feline Calicivirus (FCV) – Another upper respiratory virus that produces sneezing along with ulcers in the mouth. It transmits through saliva and eye/nasal discharge from infected cats. Like FVR, cats can carry calicivirus for life after initial exposure. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/feline-upper-respiratory-infection

Bordetella bronchiseptica – A bacterium that causes kennel cough in dogs but can also lead to upper respiratory symptoms like sneezing in cats. It spreads rapidly through the air, saliva and nasal discharge.

Chlamydophila felis – This bacteria infects cats’ eyes and respiratory tract, producing ocular and nasal discharge, conjunctivitis, and sneezing. Transmission occurs through direct contact with mucous membranes.

Risks to Humans

There are some risks to humans if a cat sneezes directly into your eye. Cats can carry bacteria, viruses, and parasites that may cause illness if transmitted to humans.

One of the most common is the bacteria Chlamydophila felis, which can cause conjunctivitis (pinkeye) in humans. The infection is usually mild and clears up on its own, but may cause redness, itching, and discharge from the eye [1]. Cats may also carry the bacteria Bartonella henselae, which causes cat scratch disease. This bacteria can be transmitted through mucus from the eyes, mouth, or nose of an infected cat [2].

Viruses like feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus can also be spread through sneezes, though these are not typically harmful to humans. More concerning is the H7N2 influenza virus, which can spread from cats to humans and cause flu-like symptoms [3].

While the risks are relatively low, it’s a good idea to wash your hands and avoid touching your eyes if a cat sneezes on or near you. See your doctor if any concerning symptoms develop after a cat sneezes in your eye.

Protecting Your Eyes

There are a few simple precautions you can take to help protect your eyes around cats that frequently sneeze:

  • Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes after petting a sneezy cat until you wash your hands. Cat sneezes can spread germs onto surfaces the cat touches like their fur.
  • Wear eye protection like safety goggles or glasses when interacting closely with a chronically sneezy cat. This creates a barrier to protect your eyes if the cat sneezes directly at your face.
  • Keep sneezy cats out of bedrooms, especially off beds, to reduce exposure during sleep. Cats tend to sneeze more when playing or excited so minimize high energy playtime.
  • Clean litter boxes frequently and wash hands after cleaning. Upper respiratory infections in cats can spread in litter and feces.
  • Avoid using handheld spray cleaners on sneezy cats as this can aerosolize saliva and nasal discharge.

Taking simple precautions can greatly reduce the chances of irritation or infection if a chronically sneezy cat happens to sneeze in your eye.

Treating a Cat Sneeze in the Eye

If a cat sneezes directly into your eye, it’s important to take action right away to reduce the risk of infection. Here are some first aid tips for treating a cat sneeze to the eye:

Rinse the eye – Use an sterile saline eye wash or clean water to flush the eye out completely. This helps remove any germs or irritants (WebMD).

Apply a cold compress – Place a clean, cold compress over the eye to help soothe irritation and reduce inflammation. Do this for 10-15 minutes (Quora).

Use antibiotic eye drops – Ask your pharmacist to recommend an over-the-counter antibiotic eye drop to prevent infection from developing in the eye. Follow package directions.

See your doctor – If eye pain, redness, irritation or discharge persists, see your doctor right away. They can properly diagnose and treat any eye infection.

With prompt first aid care, most cat sneeze exposures to the eye can be treated effectively at home. However, it’s always best to consult your doctor if symptoms don’t improve or worsen.

Preventing Cat Sneezes

There are several steps cat owners can take to help minimize sneezing in cats:

Keep the home clean and free of dust or other airborne allergens that may trigger sneezing. Vacuum regularly, dust, and wash bedding frequently. Consider using a HEPA air purifier to filter the air (source).

Avoid using candles, incense, perfumes, air fresheners or other strong scents, as these can irritate a cat’s sensitive respiratory system (source).

Don’t smoke indoors, as secondhand smoke is an irritant. Take smoking outside (source).

Use unscented litter and gentle, fragrance-free litter box cleaners. Scented options may trigger sneezing fits (source).

Keep the cat’s food and water bowls clean to avoid bacteria or mold buildup. Wash frequently with soap and hot water.

Consider humidifying the air if your home is very dry, as this can irritate nasal passages. Optimal humidity for cats is 40-70% (source).

Keep the cat indoors to limit exposure to pollen, dust, or other outdoor allergens that may cause sneezing (source).

When to See the Vet

Most cat sneezes are normal and nothing to worry about. However, there are some symptoms where you should make an appointment to see your veterinarian:

  • Sneezing that lasts longer than a few days
  • Frequent sneezing episodes (more than a couple times per day)
  • Sneezing accompanied by colored nasal discharge or eye drainage
  • Difficulty breathing or making noises when breathing
  • Loss of appetite or lethargy
  • Ulcers, sores, or other lesions in the mouth
  • Changes in behavior like hiding more than usual

Some of the more serious conditions that could require veterinary attention include respiratory infections, feline calicivirus, fungal infections, nasal mites, nasal foreign bodies, or dental disease. It’s a good idea to keep track of any other symptoms that accompany sneezing fits. Your vet will want to do a full physical exam and may run tests like nasal cultures, x-rays, or bloodwork to check for underlying illness. The earlier you can identify and treat any condition, the better the outcome will be for your cat’s health.




FAQs About Cat Sneezes

Here are some commonly asked questions about cat sneezes:

Is it normal for cats to sneeze?

Yes, occasional sneezing is normal in cats. Sneezing helps clear mucus or irritants from the nasal passage. However, frequent sneezing may indicate an illness.

What causes cats to sneeze?

Common causes of cat sneezing include viral or bacterial infections, allergies, irritation from dust or smoke, foreign objects stuck in the nose, nasal mites, dental disease, or tumors.

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

See your vet if your cat has persistent sneezing lasting more than a couple days, nasal discharge, lethargy, appetite loss, or other concerning symptoms. Frequent sneezing needs medical attention.

Is cat sneezing contagious to humans or other pets?

Cat upper respiratory infections are very contagious to other cats but generally not contagious to humans or dogs. The exception is bacterial infections like bordetella.

How is cat sneezing treated?

Treatment depends on the cause but may include antibiotics, antivirals, nose drops, removing foreign material, dental care, allergy treatment, or surgical removal of masses.

How can I prevent cat sneezing?

Keep your cat current on vaccines, avoid exposing your cat to sick animals, eliminate irritants like dust and cigarette smoke, use disinfectants, and reduce your cat’s stress.


In summary, while a cat sneezing in your eye is generally harmless, it’s important to take precautions. Thoroughly rinse your eye with clean water or saline solution if a cat sneezes on you. Monitor for any symptoms like redness, pain, or vision changes, as bacterial infections are possible though rare. Reduce sneezing triggers in your home like dust and scented products. See your doctor if symptoms persist. The main takeaway is that a cat sneeze is not cause for major concern in most cases – just practice good hygiene and eye protection around sneezy cats.

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