Why Do Cats Sneeze?

cat sneezing

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Have you ever seen your cat sneeze? Like humans and other animals, sneezing is a normal thing if it happens occasionally. It's even normal for a cat to have an occasional sneezing fit. But it's not normal for a cat to sneeze several times a day for several days in a row.

Why Cats Sneeze

There are a number of reasons a cat sneezes. Some can be more serious than others.

  • Upper Respiratory Infection
  • Exposure to toxin
  • Reaction to dust, pollen, or another allergen
  • Foreign body in the airway (like a blade of grass)
  • Structural abnormality
  • Cancer (often squamous cell carcinoma or lymphoma)

What to Do About Cat Sneezing

If your cat sneezes occasionally and otherwise seems healthy, then you probably have nothing to worry about. Make sure you bring your cat to the vet for a yearly physical, or as recommended by your vet. Your vet may be able to determine if there is an underlying health issue before it gets out of control. In between vet visits, you can check your cat's head and face at home to look for abnormalities.

If your sneezing cat is also experiencing nasal congestion, eye discharge, or other cold-like signs, then it might be an upper respiratory infection or similar issue. URIs often cause a cat to sneeze out mucus that could be yellow or greenish in color. The eyes might be glassy, teary, or even excreting a yellow or green mucus. You may notice loud breathing and trouble passing air through the nostrils. It may seem just like the common cold we humans get, except that healthy cats don't often "catch colds." URIs in cats are often caused by feline herpesvirus or calicivirus. Be sure to bring your cat to the vet soon for treatment.

Treatment

Your vet may prescribe antibiotics if a bacterial infection is suspected. Other medications may or may not be warranted. Some vets recommend saline nasal drops. One simple thing you can do at home to help: keep your cat in the bathroom while you shower. The steam can help loosen up congestion, offering some relief to your cat.

If your cat does not improve after basic treatment for the URI, then your vet may look for underlying diseases that weaken your cat's immune system, like feline leukemia virus (FeLV) or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). These diseases cannot be cured, but they can often be managed, allowing cats to live relatively healthy lives. Other, more serious diseases can also cause URIs in cats. You vet will likely recommend lab tests to determine if there is an underlying disease.

If your cat has been sneezing frequently for a few days but has no other signs of illness, it's a good idea to contact your vet for advice. Meanwhile, look at your cat's environment and consider what might be causing the sneezing. For example:

Have you changed to a new litter? Dusty and/or scented litter may cause cats to sneeze. Try changing to a low-dust cat litter and keep it unscented.

Are you using any new products in your home? Some cats are sensitive to the smell of cleaners, detergents, and perfumes. Switch to products that are unscented or mild. Consider cleaning with simple products like diluted vinegar and baking soda.

Does your house need cleaning? Maybe there is dust or pollen in your home that your cat is reacting to. Remember that cats spend a lot of their time close to the ground. Dust and vacuum your home thoroughly. Clean surfaces with a non-toxic, non-scented cleaner.

If you have taken all the steps to rule out environmental causes and your cat is still sneezing, then it's time to see the vet. Your vet will do an examination and possibly some lab tests to look for an underlying condition.

If everything else has been ruled out, your vet might recommend a rhinoscopy. This is done by inserting a tiny camera into the nasal passages to look for abnormalities while the cat is under anesthesia. Cats sometimes inhale tiny foreign bodies into their airways, like blades of grass. This can often be discovered and removed during a rhinoscopy. Other things that might be found during a rhinoscopy include nasal polyps, tumors, swelling of the upper airway, or anatomical deformities. Polyps and tumors may or may not be removable during the procedure. In some cases, a separate surgical procedure is needed.