Why Is My Cat Sneezing? Symptoms & Treatment

Key takeaway

Consistent cat sneezing could be an indication of a more serious underlying health issue. To help you understand why your cat is sneezing and how you can help them, we’ve gathered important information regarding the causes of sneezing in cats and various treatment options. Whether you can treat your cat right from home or with the help of a vet, it’s important to take the necessary steps to help your cat get better.

Picture this: You’re sitting on the couch watching TV and your cat jumps up next to you and takes a seat. You start to pet them and then all of a sudden, they let out a big sneeze. You think nothing of it- cat sneezes are cute, after all, and continue on with your day. But then that one sneeze turns into two sneezes and two sneezes turn into a nonstop sneeze fest. So many sneezes later, cute starts to become concerning.

While your cat sneezing might sound cute, it can actually be a cause for concern for your furry friend. Why is my cat sneezing, you ask? One sneeze might just be them clearing their nose, but multiple sneezes may indicate an underlying condition. So, if you hear your cat break out into a sneeze fest, be proactive.

In this blog post, we’ll be discussing the causes of sneezing in cats, at-home remedies for sneezing, when you should see your vet, and more. If you were sick and sneezing, you wouldn’t want it to go unnoticed. Your cat deserves the same. 

Causes of Sneezing in Cats

So, why do cats sneeze? There are various reasons why your cat may be sneezing. However, identifying the exact reason for your cat sneezing can be difficult to diagnose. This is because a cat sneezing can be easily misdiagnosed as something else. 

Other ailments, like coughing, hiccuping, retching, and gagging, can easily be confused with a sneeze, but treating those is a lot different than treating a sneeze. It’s important to carefully monitor your cat whenever they have a sneezing episode so that you can be positive that they’re actually sneezing and not doing something else. It may be helpful to capture a video of your cat sneezing to show your vet in case there is any question about what is actually occurring.

Sneezing is actually one of the top reported feline health issues described by cat-owning households. 

Incidence of feline health issues by percentage in cat-owning households

But once you’ve determined that your cat is in fact sneezing, you’re probably wondering why. We’ll get into the causes of sneezing in cats below:

Upper Respiratory Infections

An upper respiratory infection is typically the root cause of sneezing in cats. Feline calicivirus and feline herpesvirus cause over 80% of upper respiratory infections1

Graphic stating that feline calicivirus and feline herpesvirus cause over 80% of upper respiratory infections.

Feline herpesvirus is very common in cats and can easily be transmitted between cats through direct contact, breathing in sneeze droplets, or sharing food. 

In addition to sneezing, some other symptoms of an upper respiratory infection in cats can include discharge from the eyes and nose (can be clear, yellow, green, or bloody), repeated coughing or swallowing, dehydration, and decreased appetite, and fever. 

Note: Cats may also experience chronic upper respiratory infections, which have longer-lasting symptoms and may lead to chronic bacterial infection if left untreated.

As for treating upper respiratory infections, there are a few things you can do to relieve some of their symptoms. Regularly clean the discharge from their eyes and nose with warm, moist cotton and make sure they are properly fed and hydrated. You can also try putting on a humidifier, which will help to keep their nasal passages moist. 

The best way to prevent your cat from getting a feline herpes virus, which can cause an upper respiratory infection, is to get them vaccinated as a kitten. This won’t completely prevent them from getting it, but it’ll lower their chances.

Nasal and Sinus Issues

The reason your cat is sneezing may be because they suffer from rhinitis and sinusitis. Rhinitis and sinusitis are respiratory issues. Rhinitis is similar to a stuffy nose and sinusitis is an inflammation in the lining of the sinuses. Rhinitis and sinusitis are both common in cats and can trigger these sneezing episodes. They both cause inflammation in cats’ noses and sinuses.

In addition to sneezing, some other symptoms of nasal and sinus issues include nasal discharge (clear if mild, yellow, green, or bloody if severe), heavy breathing or snoring, tearing and discharge from the eyes, and pawing at the face. Treating these issues will usually involve a physical examination as well as a rhinoscopy and biopsy. 

Allergies

You might think that allergies are just for humans, but your cat can absolutely get them too. For humans, sneezing is a common symptom of allergies, but it’s far less common with cats. Typically, a cat with allergies will have symptoms like skin irritation, hair loss, and itchiness. However, your cat can be sensitive to airborne irritants such as mold, dust, perfume, smoke, and cleaning supplies. Removing these potential allergens and irritants from your home may help to alleviate your cat’s symptoms.

While there is no specific cure for allergies in cats, you can create a treatment plan to relieve symptoms. A treatment plan can include customized allergy immunotherapy, a special diet, or medication. Be sure to discuss with your vet to figure out a treatment plan that works for you and your cat. 

Bacterial Infections

A bacterial infection is another possible cause of your cat sneezing. With a bacterial infection, your cat will have yellow or green discharge coming out of their eyes and nose. Some common bacterial infections include bordetella, mycoplasma, and chlamydia. However, a bacterial infection is rarely ever the single culprit of your cat sneezing. A bacterial infection usually occurs after a respiratory virus damages the nasal passage, leaving the cat immunocompromised. 

The use of antibiotics is typically the only way to treat a bacterial infection in a cat. Doxycycline and azithromycin are the most common antibiotics to help relieve symptoms. 

Dental Disease

You might not think so, but dental disease could be the reason for your cat’s consistent sneezing. Dental disease occurs when a cat’s teeth become infected or inflamed. The roots of the teeth on a cat are located next to the nasal passage. So when the teeth become infected or inflamed, this causes the barrier between the tooth socket and the nose to open up. So then when the cat eats, food can enter the nose and cause the cat to sneeze. 

Research from Cornell Feline Health Center shows that 50 to 90% of cats older than four years of age suffer from some form of dental disease2.

Graphic stating that more than 50% of cats older 4 years suffer from dental disease

In order to treat this condition, the infected tooth must be removed or the hole must be closed. Regardless, a veterinary visit is necessary so that the cat can be properly treated and diagnosed.

Fungal Infections

Fungal infections in cats are far less common than viral or bacterial infections, but they’re still possible. Cryptococcus is usually the fungus that causes fungal infection in a cat.3

Fungal infection symptoms in cats

A cat fungal infection is painful, so it’s important to get it treated as quickly as possible. A blood test can be used to diagnose cryptococcus, though rhinoscopy or biopsy may also be required for a cat to be diagnosed with a fungal infection. The infection needs to be treated with an oral antifungal medication for several months until the tests show the fungal infection has resolved. 

Foreign Bodies

Cats can get foreign objects stuck in their nose which can cause a sudden onset of often violent sneezing. Common foreign bodies include grass awns such as foxtails. Foxtails are the seeds of plants that have barbs on them that cause them to move in one direction - deeper into the fur or up a cat’s nose. This can cause major damage as well as discomfort to your cat and needs to be treated as quickly as possible. Cats can also get blades of grass stuck behind their soft palate which cause a sneezing and swallowing syndrome. To treat a cat with a foreign object in their nose or behind their soft palate, a veterinarian will need to anesthetize your cat to attempt to locate and remove the foreign body.

How to Treat Sneezing in Cats

The first step in treating sneezing in cats is identifying what the underlying issue is. If your cat suffers from sneezing, it’s important to note that often the goal isn’t to cure the sneezing, but rather to alleviate the symptoms. 

There are various treatment options available to help your cat live more comfortably and stop sneezing. Some of these treatment options include antibiotics or a nasal lavage. Antibiotics can be used to quickly treat a cat’s symptoms and make them feel better, while a nasal lavage provides more temporary relief and can remove hidden material from inside a cat’s nose. 

There are a few other options to treat a sneezing cat, including:

  • Humidifiers
  • Air purifiers
  • Steroids
  • Antihistamines 
  • NSAIDs
  • Decongestants
  • Surgery (in serious cases)
  • Anti-nausea medication

At-Home Remedies

If your cat is suffering from a more mild case of sneezing, at-home remedies might do the trick. There are a few ways you can treat your cat’s sneezes right from home, such as:

  • Get rid of air fresheners or other scented products: Inhaling strong odors from air fresheners or scented products can cause a cat to develop a watery nose/eyes and can even lead to respiratory illnesses.
  • Avoid toxic disinfectants: This includes many household cleaners, which can be dangerous to cats if inhaled or ingested.
  • Use a vaporizer: A dry environment can cause sneezing and stuffiness in cats, so adding moisture to the air with a vaporizer can help to alleviate these symptoms.
  • Feed them potent-smelling food: In order for a cat to naturally be able to fight off infections, they need to be healthy. And to be healthy, they need to eat. If your cat can’t smell they may be less inclined to eat, which is just going to exacerbate the problem. You can even try warming up their food to make the smell even more noticeable. 
Feed your cat potent-smelling food when sick to encourage them to eat

There are various ways to prevent your cat from sneezing by making simple adjustments in your home. Stop using air fresheners, perfumes, and scented laundry detergents and see if that makes a difference, and check for dust that could be exacerbating their allergies. To further minimize the presence of dust in your cat’s environment, consider using a low-dust litter box. 

In addition to sprucing up your home, try your best to ensure your cat is living in a low-stress environment in order to prevent flare-ups of herpes which can be exacerbated by stress.

Consider Allergy Medication

If your cat suffers from allergies that’s causing them to sneeze, you may want to consider giving them allergy medication. Allergy medication can help with a cat sneezing and coughing and make them feel more comfortable. 

While various common over-the-counter allergy medications can be given to your cat to treat allergies, it’s always important to discuss them with your veterinarian beforehand. If you’re not sure if allergy medication is the right choice for your cat, let us help. Dutch.com is an easy way to source common allergy medications from a licensed veterinarian, without having to actually make a visit to the vet’s office.

Dutch is an online telehealth service for your pet; with Dutch, pet owners can connect with licensed veterinarians to receive the medication they need for their pets if prescribed. The vets affiliated with Dutch can prescribe medicine for your cat with allergies, and it will be delivered to your door. We understand that taking the time off from work to bring your cat to the vet can be difficult, but with Dutch, treating your cat has never been easier.

When to See Your Vet

You may need to take your cat to the vet if common allergy medicines and other home remedies do not mitigate your cat’s sneezing symptoms. If your cat’s sneezing symptoms stay the same or get worse, it’s important to take the necessary measures to treat your cat by taking them to the vet.

A vet will know the proper way to go about diagnosing your cat. This could be with blood or urine tests, X-rays, rhinoscopies, or biopsies. For example, sneezing could be the result of an inflamed nasal passage caused by the inhalation of foreign material. But the only way you would be able to know if that’s the issue is with a rhinoscopy, which can only be done at the vet. This is why it’s crucial to bring your cat to the vet if their sneezing doesn’t go away or get better. 

Your vet will have a better idea of what is exactly causing the sneezing and how to go about treating it. They’ll also know if the sneezing is being confused for a different or more serious health condition. Don’t take your cat sneezing lightly- it could be an indication of a serious underlying health condition and seeing a vet might be necessary.

Getting your cat vaccinated is also crucial in helping to prevent them from getting sick down the road. The right vaccinations will protect your cat from diseases that are caused by viruses. Shots will also help to strengthen your cat’s immune system so that they can naturally fight off these diseases if they do come in contact with them. Both indoor and outdoor cats should be vaccinated, so be sure to discuss with your vet what vaccines are necessary.

Sneezing Cats: Frequently Asked Questions

If your cat is suffering from consistent sneezing, you’re probably desperate to find a solution. You probably have a lot of questions about how to go about diagnosing and treating your sneezing cat, so we’ve gathered up (and answered) some frequently asked questions to help out:

When should I worry about my cat sneezing?

If your cat sneezes a couple of times here and there, it’s probably just them trying to clear out their nasal passage. But if your cat sneezes constantly, or if the sneezing is accompanied by other symptoms, that’s when you should consider next steps. If your cat stops eating or develops a cough, wheezing, or other more serious symptoms, bring them to the vet as soon as possible.

What should I do if my cat keeps sneezing?

Persistent sneezing should be treated seriously with a visit to the vet who can properly diagnose and treat them. Persistent sneezing could be a sign of another ailment, like an upper respiratory condition or a bacterial infection.

Is sneezing a symptom of COVID-19 in cats?

If your cat is sneezing, it’s unlikely that it’s a symptom of COVID-19. COVID-19 is primarily spread from human to human, and although there were cases of animals contracting the virus, it’s not likely that your cat has it unless they were exposed. However, it is important to note that cats can contract their own variation of coronavirus, a term used to describe a large family of viruses. The main coronavirus symptoms to watch in your pet are respiratory illness and diarrhea. 

How much sneezing is too much for a cat?

One or two sneezes are harmless. But if your cat is experiencing persistent sneezing episodes that have been continuing on for several weeks or months, then that’s a different situation. If this is your case, your cat should be brought to a vet to diagnose the issue at hand.

Final Notes: How to Treat Your Cat’s Sneezing

Dealing with a sneezing cat is frustrating and worrisome. You never know when your cat is going to break out into a sneezing episode, and all you can do is sit there and watch. This is why it’s so important to take a sneezing cat seriously so you can know how to treat them.

It’s easy to overlook a cat sneezing — we all sneeze, right? While that’s true for a few sneezes here and there, persistent sneezing shouldn’t be taken lightly. Sneezing could be a symptom of a serious underlying health condition, which is why it’s necessary to take your cat to the vet if their sneezing persists.

There are various reasons why your cat may be sneezing. It could be a result of nasal and sinus issues. It could be a symptom of a chronic upper respiratory condition. It could be allergies. But in order to properly diagnose your cat, you need to figure out the root of the problem and what’s causing them to sneeze.

Treating your furry friend may require giving them antibiotics or allergy medication, or you may just have to make simple household changes. Removing toxins in your home and keeping your air fresh and clean can help to alleviate some of your cat’s symptoms. If your cat’s symptoms continue or worsen, then you should absolutely bring them to the vet so they can get properly treated.

That’s where Dutch comes into play. With Dutch, you can contact a licensed veterinarian right from the comfort of your own home and get the necessary prescription for your sneezing cat quickly and easily, right to your door.

Dr. Evans is the Clinical Director of Dutch and the owner of Coastal Animal Hospital.

References

  1. Henzel, Andréia et al. “Isolation and identification of feline calicivirus and feline herpesvirus in Southern Brazil.” Brazilian journal of microbiology : [publication of the Brazilian Society for Microbiology] vol. 43,2 (2012): 560-8. doi:10.1590/S1517-83822012000200017
  2. “Feline Dental Disease.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. June 2017. https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feline-dental-disease

  3. Fungal Infections in Cats By Joseph Taboada, et al. “Fungal Infections in Cats - Cat Owners.” Merck Veterinary Manual, Merck Veterinary Manual, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/cat-owners/disorders-affecting-multiple-body-systems-of-cats/fungal-infections-in-cats.