Why Is My Cat Sneezing? Should I Be Worried?

Sarah Wooten DVM walks you through some common reasons why your cat is sneezing and when professional help should be sought out.

Cat Sneezing @asiquealam / Unsplash

If you notice your cat sneezing occasionally, then there is a high likelihood that the sneezing is no big deal. Just like us, cat sneezing can be a response to something irritating the nasal passages. If the cat sneezing is accompanied by nasal discharge, red or swollen eyes, eye discharge, fever, or a loss of appetite, however, then your cat is sick and needs to see a veterinarian, STAT!

What causes cat sneezing?

Viral infections

One of the most common causes of cat sneezing is infection. Viral infections that cause sneezing are extremely common in cats. In fact, upper respiratory infections are one of the most common reasons cats are seen by veterinarians. Upper respiratory infections, URI for short, in cats are very similar to the common cold in humans. URIs are more common in young cats, stressed cats, and cats that are housed in shelters or rescues.

Feline herpesvirus and calicivirus are some of the more common viruses that cause cat sneezing. Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), feline leukaemia virus, Chlamydia, Bordetella, and Mycoplasma are all infectious organisms that can cause cat sneezing. These viruses wreak havoc with cats, often causing secondary bacterial infections that lead to severe congestion due to a build-up of nasal passage clogging yellow and green snot. Gross.

Nasal congestion can get so bad that it makes a cat feel awful and not want to eat. If you notice a cat not eating with nasal discharge, then it is likely that cat has an upper respiratory infection, and needs veterinary attention.

Managing stress during an infection

Viral infection cat sneezing

If your cat has already been infected with a virus that predisposes to cat sneezing, then do what you can to manage your cat’s stress. Just like in humans, stress can predispose cats that have viruses like Herpes to manifest signs, including cat sneezing. Make sure every cat you care for has his or her own bedding, litterbox, and food and water bowls. If you can provide each cat with his or her cat tree then that’s a huge bonus.

Get veterinarian attention

If your cat has an active upper respiratory infection, then your cat needs veterinary attention. Depending on how sick a cat is, a veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics or other medication. Sometimes, cats can become very dehydrated from an upper respiratory infection and not drinking. In these cases, fluids may be recommended, administered either subcutaneously or intravenously.

Sometimes nasal decongestants or steroids can be prescribed to help the cat breathe more easily. Sometimes cats can become so sick that they require hospitalization – follow the advice of your veterinarian in these cases.

Fungal infections

While upper respiratory infections are usually due to a bacterial or a viral infection, sometimes a fungal infection can be the reason for cat sneezing. Fungi such as Histoplasma capsulatum, Blastomyces dermatitis, Coccidioides immitis, and Cryptococcus neoformans, while rare, can, and do infect felines. If your cat is sneezing and not responding to antibiotics, then a fungal cause should be considered.

The good news is that most URIs can be prevented by vaccination. Kittens need a series of vaccines in order to be completely protected. Adult cats (indoor and outdoor!) need vaccination every one to three years, depending on the particular vaccine. Vaccinate early and on schedule to prevent cat sneezing from upper respiratory infections.

When it comes to deciding what is best for your cat, your veterinarian will appropriately advise you on the best vaccination schedule for your cat.

Why else do cats sneeze?

Grass causing sneezing in cats

Cat sneezing can occur secondary to allergies, just like humans, but respiratory infections are less likely in cats. One overlooked reason for cat sneezing is dental infections, which can be arise from poor grooming habits. Sometimes, cats can develop tooth root abscesses that can lead to oral pain, drooling, bad breath, loss of appetite, snot, and cat sneezing.

Another common cause of cat sneezing is a foreign body, such as cat grass. Cats often eat grass, and if they are not careful, they can get grass stuck in between the back of the throat and the nose. This can manifest as cat sneezing, and if you are lucky, you may actually see the piece of grass protruding from one of the nostrils. Veterinarian intervention is required to extract the grass from the nose and the back of the throat.

While the causes of cat sneezing can be mild and not require treatment, some causes can be severe and require veterinary attention. If sneezing in your cat is causing you concern, then don’t hesitate to call your veterinarian.

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