Help! My Cat Won’t Stop Sneezing – What OTC Meds Can I Give?

Causes of Sneezing in Cats

Sneezing in cats can be caused by a variety of factors. Some common causes include:

Viruses – Upper respiratory infections caused by viruses like feline herpesvirus and calicivirus are a common cause of sneezing in cats. These viral infections are very contagious between cats. Symptoms include sneezing, runny nose and eyes, fever, and lethargy.

Bacteria – Bacterial infections like Bordetella bronchiseptica can also lead to upper respiratory infections in cats causing sneezing. This bacteria is highly contagious between cats. Antibiotics may be needed for treatment.

Allergies – Allergies to things like pollen, dust mites, cigarette smoke, and certain foods or chemicals can trigger sneezing in cats. Antihistamines may help control allergy symptoms.

Foreign Objects – Sometimes a foreign object like a grass seed or piece of dirt gets lodged in a cat’s nasal passages and causes irritation and sneezing.

Tumors – Nasal cavity tumors, polyps, or other masses are an uncommon cause of sneezing and nasal discharge in cats.

Dental Disease – Inflammation from gum disease or tooth root abscesses can sometimes cause sneezing in cats.

Frequent sneezing, especially when combined with other symptoms like nasal discharge or eye irritation warrants a veterinary visit for diagnosis and treatment guidance. Certain causes of sneezing like viruses and bacteria can be contagious to other pets.

When to See the Vet

While occasional sneezing is normal in cats, you should take your cat to the vet if the sneezing persists for more than 2 weeks or is accompanied by other symptoms. According to Ponderosa Veterinary Clinic, you should schedule a vet visit if your cat has nasal discharge, especially if it’s yellowish-green or contains blood. Labored breathing, snoring, loss of appetite, lethargy, and other concerning symptoms alongside prolonged sneezing also warrant a trip to the vet.

As explained by Carson Veterinary Hospital, sneezing that lasts over 2 weeks could indicate a chronic upper respiratory infection or another underlying health issue, which requires veterinary attention and treatment. It’s important not to delay seeking care if your cat’s sneezing is persistent or accompanied by other symptoms, as prompt treatment leads to better outcomes.

Make an appointment with your vet if your cat’s sneezing concerns you. The vet will examine your cat and run tests as needed to determine the cause of the sneezing and recommend appropriate treatment.

OTC Antihistamines

The most common over-the-counter antihistamines used for cats are diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton). Antihistamines can help relieve allergy symptoms like sneezing by blocking the effects of histamine, which is released by the immune system in response to allergens.

Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is available over-the-counter and is safe for cats when used according to dosage guidelines. Benadryl begins working within 30 minutes to an hour and effects can last 4-6 hours (Dutch 2022).

Chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton) is another OTC antihistamine option for cats. It starts working within 1-2 hours and lasts around 8-12 hours. Chlorpheniramine may cause less drowsiness than diphenhydramine (Chewy 2022).


When giving Benadryl to cats, it’s important to follow the label instructions carefully and not exceed the recommended dosage. The typical dosage of Benadryl for cats is 1-2 mg per pound of body weight, given every 12 hours.

For example, if your cat weighs 10 pounds, the dose would be 10-20 mg every 12 hours. You can use a calculator like the one from Omni to determine the proper dose based on your cat’s weight.

Most regular strength Benadryl tablets are 25 mg, so for a 10 pound cat the dose would be roughly 1/4 of a tablet given twice daily. It’s important not to exceed 2 mg per pound per dose. Overdosing on Benadryl can cause side effects like excitation, heart palpitations, and tremors in cats.

Always double check the dosage with your veterinarian before giving any medication, as the dosage may vary depending on your cat’s medical history. Stick closely to the prescribed dosage and never give more than the recommended amount.

Administering Medication

There are a few different ways to administer medication to cats:

Liquid Medication

For liquid medication, the easiest method is to mix it into some canned cat food that your cat enjoys. Make sure the food is pate-style (not chunks in gravy) so the medication blends in thoroughly. Use a spoon to mix the medication into the food and mash it together so the medication is well-incorporated. It’s best to give the medicated food in your cat’s normal feeding bowl so they feel comfortable eating. Make sure your cat eats all of the food so that the full dosage is consumed.

You can also give liquid medication directly into your cat’s mouth using an oral syringe or dropper. Insert the syringe inside your cat’s cheek pouch and gently squirt a small amount at a time. Avoid squirting too much at once or too close to the front of the tongue, as this may cause choking or gagging. Reward your cat with treats after administering the medication.

According to VCA Hospitals, “The easiest way to give your cat liquid medication is to mix it in with some canned food.” (

Pill Medication

For pill medication, you can try hiding the pill in a small ball of canned food. As with liquid medication, mash the food thoroughly around the pill to encase it. You can also try a pill dispenser or pill pocket treat designed for cats. Place the pill inside and encourage your cat to eat the treat. This covers up the taste of the pill.

If your cat won’t take a pill hidden in food, you may need to place it directly in their mouth. Hold your cat still and gently pry open their mouth by placing one finger on each side of the jaw near the molars. Quickly place the pill as far back on the tongue as possible then hold their mouth closed and gently stroke their throat until they swallow. Reward with treats after successfully giving the pill.

Transdermal Gel

Transdermal gel medications are applied to your cat’s ear and absorb through the skin into the bloodstream. Part the fur on your cat’s inner ear and squeeze a small ribbon of gel directly on the skin. Gently rub the ear to distribute the medication. Make sure your cat does not shake their head and dislodge the gel before it’s fully absorbed. Transdermal gel is easy to apply but your cat may try to remove it by shaking or scratching their ear.

Side Effects

Antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) can have several side effects in cats that owners should be aware of before administering the medication:1

The most common side effect of antihistamines in cats is sedation or lethargy. Cats tend to be more sensitive to the sedative effects compared to dogs. In some cases, antihistamines can have the opposite effect and cause irritability or excitation.2

Gastrointestinal side effects like diarrhea, vomiting, and appetite changes are also possible with antihistamine use. These side effects tend to be less common but owners should monitor their cat’s eating habits and litter box closely when starting medication.3

In rare cases, antihistamines can cause irritability, panting, tremors, and heart palpitations in cats. If any unusual side effects are observed after administering medication, owners should consult their veterinarian right away.


When giving your cat OTC antihistamines, it’s important to take certain precautions:

Do not use human antihistamine eye drops in cats, as they can cause serious side effects. Cats’ eyes differ anatomically from humans’, so products formulated for people may be toxic for cats (PetMD).

Always consult your veterinarian before giving any OTC medication to your cat. Your vet can advise you on the proper dosage and any potential risks based on your cat’s medical history. Do not give OTC antihistamines to cats with certain conditions like glaucoma, thyroid disorders, or urinary obstructions without veterinary guidance (VCA).

Monitor your cat closely for side effects like sedation, agitation, vomiting, or lack of appetite after administering OTC antihistamines. Discontinue use and contact your vet if any concerning symptoms develop.

OTC antihistamines like diphenhydramine are typically safe for cats when used properly, but should only be given with caution and under the supervision of a veterinarian.

Other OTC Options

In addition to antihistamines, there are some other over-the-counter medications and supplements that may help relieve cat sneezing and symptoms:

Saline nasal spray can help clear nasal congestion and soothe inflamed nasal passages. Use a pet-safe saline spray and administer as directed.

Lysine supplements may help reduce sneezing caused by viral infections like herpes. The recommended dosage for cats is 250-500 mg daily. Products like VetriScience Vetri-Lysine Plus are vet-approved.

Some OTC cough suppressants, like dextromethorphan, may be safe for cats in small doses. Check with your vet first and carefully follow dosage guidelines. Do not use medications containing guaifenesin or acetaminophen.

Home Remedies

There are some home remedies that can provide relief for a cat with a sneezing cold without the use of medication. Some options to consider include:

Air filtration – Using an air purifier with a HEPA filter can help remove allergens and irritants from the air that may be causing sneezing. Make sure to change the filters regularly. Opening windows to allow fresh air circulation can also help.[1]

Humidity – Using a humidifier adds moisture back into the air, which can soothe irritated nasal passages. Shoot for 30-50% humidity levels. Alternatively, take your cat into the bathroom while you shower for some steam therapy.[2]

Hygiene – Gently wipe your cat’s nose with a warm, damp cloth to remove any discharge and keep the nostrils clear. Clean bedding and dishes regularly as well.

Diet – Feed your cat easy-to-digest foods like bone broths, cooked chicken, or pumpkin puree during a cold. Ensure they stay hydrated by adding water to food or using a cat water fountain.

When to See Results

Over-the-counter allergy medications like antihistamines can take some time to start working. It may take 3-5 days after starting the medication to see improvement in your cat’s allergy symptoms like sneezing.

Be patient and continue to give the OTC medication as directed for at least 5-7 days. If after this time you don’t see the sneezing and other allergy symptoms getting better, contact your veterinarian.

Your vet may want to examine your cat to rule out other causes for persistent sneezing besides allergies. They may also prescribe a different allergy medication or treatment plan if the OTC antihistamine does not seem to be helping.

Call your vet right away if the sneezing is accompanied by discharge from the eyes or nose, coughing, breathing issues, or lethargy. These may be signs of an upper respiratory infection that requires medical treatment. Don’t delay contacting the vet if your cat’s condition seems to be getting worse despite OTC medication.

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