Why Does My Cat Have a Sneezing Fit After Drinking? The Curious Reverse Sneeze Explained

What is a Reverse Sneeze in Cats?

A reverse sneeze is not an actual sneeze, but rather a spasm affecting a cat’s upper airway that causes a gasping, snorting, or honking sound. Owners often describe the noise as similar to a cat choking or having something stuck in its throat (Source: https://www.webmd.com/pets/cats/what-is-reverse-sneeze-cats).

During a reverse sneeze episode, air is rapidly and forcefully pulled into a cat’s nasal passages. This often results in the neck extending and head tilting upwards as the cat makes loud, repetitive snorting or gagging noises. Some cats will open their mouths during an episode. The spasms typically only last for 10-30 seconds before returning to normal (Source: https://lakecityanimalhospital.com/blog/reverse-sneezing-in-cats/).

While alarming for owners to witness, reverse sneezing itself is harmless and not indicative of a true medical emergency. However, determining the underlying cause is recommended.

Common Causes and Triggers

There are several common causes and triggers for reverse sneezing in cats:

Drinking water is one of the most frequent triggers for reverse sneezing. Cats may start reverse sneezing right after taking a drink. It’s believed that getting water up their nose can irritate the nasal passages and soft palate, inducing the spasms of reverse sneezing.

Other common causes include:

  • Irritation or inflammation of the nasal passages or throat, often due to inhaled allergens like pollen or dust. This can make the soft palate twitch.
  • Foreign objects getting stuck in the nasal passages or throat, like bits of food, grass, or dirt. These can mechanically trigger spasms.
  • Respiratory infections that cause inflammation of the airways.
  • Nasal mites that irritate the nasal passages.

So in summary, anything that irritates the sensitive nasal passages, soft palate, or throat can potentially trigger episodes of reverse sneezing as a protective reflex in cats. Drinking water is one of the most frequent mechanical irritants that stimulates this reflex.

Source: https://www.webmd.com/pets/cats/what-is-reverse-sneeze-cats

Anatomy Behind the Reverse Sneeze

Cats have a unique nasal and throat anatomy that contributes to reverse sneezing. The nasal cavity is divided into left and right sides by the nasal septum. Air enters through the nostrils and travels through the nasal passages before reaching the throat region.

The soft palate separates the nasal cavity from the oral cavity. At the back of the throat near the opening to the trachea is the pharynx, which contains the soft palate and epiglottis. The epiglottis is a flap of cartilage that closes over the trachea when swallowing to prevent food and liquid from entering the airway.

When a cat reverse sneezes, the soft palate and epiglottis briefly spasm and close off the opening to the trachea. This causes air to be rapidly pushed out through the nose, creating the reverse sneeze sound. The soft tissue anatomy combined with strong inhalation creates the right conditions for this phenomenon.

Understanding the nasal and throat anatomy helps explain why reverse sneezing occurs. The soft palate and epiglottis are prone to spasming when irritated or stimulated by foreign particles, post-nasal drip, or other triggers.

Is Reverse Sneezing Dangerous?

Reverse sneezing is not usually dangerous or a cause for serious concern in cats (https://vetster.com/en/symptoms/cat/reverse-sneezing-in-cats). The episodes are startling and dramatic, but generally harmless on their own. However, frequent or severe episodes of reverse sneezing can sometimes indicate an underlying medical issue.

While reverse sneezing itself is not harmful, it may be a symptom of a respiratory infection, sinus inflammation, nasal mites, allergies, or other problems affecting the upper airways (https://www.webmd.com/pets/cats/what-is-reverse-sneeze-cats). In these cases, the irritant or inflammation triggers the reverse sneezing reflex. So it’s important to pay attention to any other symptoms that accompany reverse sneezing.

See your veterinarian if the episodes become excessive, last longer than normal, or are accompanied by discharge, breathing problems, or other concerning symptoms. They can examine your cat and determine if an infection, allergy, or other issue is causing the increased reverse sneezing.

Treatment depends on the underlying cause but may include antibiotics for infection, steroids and antihistamines for allergies, or medications to reduce inflammation. As long as any underlying illness is properly treated, the prognosis for recovery is good.

Medical Treatment Options

There are a number of medical treatment options available for cats that experience frequent or severe reverse sneezing episodes. The most common medications prescribed by veterinarians include:

Anti-inflammatories – Drugs like prednisolone help reduce inflammation in the nasal passages and throat which can be causing irritation and reverse sneezing. Anti-inflammatories are commonly prescribed for allergy, infection, or structural related causes.

Antihistamines – Antihistamine medications like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) can help reduce histamine reactions that lead to nasal inflammation. These drugs help suppress the hyperactive immune response in cases of allergies.

In some cases, vets may prescribe cough suppressants, bronchodilators, antibiotics, or antifungals depending on the underlying cause of the reverse sneezing. Steroid therapy may also be used in stubborn cases to control inflammation.

For cats with severe anatomical defects or nasal polyps, surgery may be required as a last resort. Procedures like nasal flap palatoplasty can open the airways and facilitate normal breathing. Turbinectomy is also used to remove nasal turbinate bones in some cases. These surgical interventions are generally only performed when other medical options have been exhausted. Prognosis is good with surgery, but it does carry risks like any major procedure.

By working closely with your veterinarian and determining the root cause of your cat’s reverse sneezing, an effective treatment plan can usually be devised to reduce episodes and improve their quality of life. Be sure to monitor response to any medications prescribed and report any concerns promptly.

Source: https://www.webmd.com/pets/cats/what-is-reverse-sneeze-cats

Home Care and Prevention

There are some tips you can follow at home to help manage reverse sneezing episodes when they occur:

  • Gently rub or massage your cat’s throat – this can help stop the spasm
  • Offer a small amount of water, which can help clear the irritation
  • Stay calm and speak soothingly, as anxiety can worsen episodes

You can also take steps to prevent reverse sneezing by limiting irritants in your cat’s environment:

  • Monitor for and reduce dust, smoke, pollen or other allergens in your home
  • Groom your cat regularly to minimize fur buildup that can cause sneezing
  • Use a humidifier to prevent dry irritated airways

Pay attention to any triggers that seem to cause sneezing episodes and try to limit your cat’s exposure. With some simple home care, you can often manage your cat’s reverse sneezing.

When to See the Veterinarian

If your cat experiences frequent or severe episodes of reverse sneezing, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. Frequent reverse sneezing can be a sign of an underlying health issue that needs treatment. Severe episodes that involve gagging, wheezing, open-mouth breathing, or bluish gums are considered emergencies and require immediate veterinary care.

Additional symptoms like coughing, fever, or lethargy paired with reverse sneezing also warrant a trip to the vet. Your vet will perform a full physical exam to check for potential causes like nasal mites, polyps, tumors, collapsing trachea, or asthma. They may recommend imaging tests like X-rays or an endoscopy to examine the nasal passages and airways.

Even if your cat seems healthy otherwise, it’s a good idea to have your vet evaluate any persistent reverse sneezing. They can assess your cat’s airways and may uncover an underlying issue to treat. Prompt treatment of nasal irritation or inflammation can help prevent long term breathing problems for your cat.

Long Term Outlook and Prognosis

Reverse sneezing in cats often has a positive long term outlook and prognosis. In most cases, reverse sneezing is an acute condition that resolves on its own or with simple at-home treatment within a few days or weeks (https://vetster.com/en/symptoms/cat/reverse-sneezing-in-cats).

For chronic or recurrent cases, ongoing medications like antihistamines may be prescribed by the veterinarian to manage symptoms. Other therapies like antibiotics, inhaled corticosteroids, or sedatives may also help in stubborn cases (https://drgoodvet.com/pet-health-plus/reverse-sneeze-in-cats/). With appropriate treatment tailored to the underlying cause, the majority of cats can achieve good control of reverse sneezing episodes.

Overall, reverse sneezing tends to be an easily manageable condition in cats when proper veterinary care is provided if needed. The long-term prognosis is good, especially when preventative measures are taken to avoid triggers. Most cats go on to lead normal, healthy lives without any major complications from occasional bouts of reverse sneezing (https://lakecityanimalhospital.com/blog/reverse-sneezing-in-cats/).

What Causes Reverse Sneezing After Drinking?

There are a few possible reasons why some cats experience reverse sneezing after drinking water:

The sensation of water passing through the throat may irritate sensitive areas and trigger the reverse sneeze reflex. Cats with esophageal sensitivity or spasms may be more prone to reverse sneezing when swallowing liquids (https://lakecityanimalhospital.com/blog/reverse-sneezing-in-cats/).

Drinking cold water can also cause throat irritation in some cats, leading to reverse sneezing. The temperature change from cold water may stimulate the nasal passages and soft palate.

Rapid drinking or gulping water too quickly can also trigger reverse sneezing in cats. When a cat drinks hastily, water may enter the nasal passages or the back of the throat, initiating the reflex.

Trying different water bowls, positions, and temperatures may help reduce reverse sneezing after drinking for sensitive cats. Slowing down gulping with puzzle feeders can also help prevent excessive irritation.

Preventing Reverse Sneezing from Drinking

There are some tips and tricks you can try to help prevent reverse sneezing episodes after your cat drinks water:

Elevate your cat’s food and water bowls so they don’t have to bend down as far to eat and drink. This can reduce the amount of air they ingest. Using a fountain water bowl can also slow down gulping and cut back on air intake.

Try to limit your cat’s access to communal water bowls where they may gulp large amounts of water at once. Provide multiple smaller bowls of water around your home instead.

Consider offering frozen treats like ice cubes or frozen broths to help numb your cat’s throat and reduce irritation after drinking. The cold temperature can soothe their throat and make reverse sneezing less likely.

Discourage rapid eating and drinking by separating multiple cats at meal times and monitoring their intake. Feed smaller, more frequent meals if your cat is prone to inhaling their food and water.

Addressing any underlying health issues like dental disease, allergies, collapsing trachea, or other conditions can also reduce reverse sneezing episodes in cats.

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