Just like people, kittens and cats sneeze for a variety of reasons. An occasional sneeze isn't a symptom of a serious feline health problem, and it often has to do with environmental allergens or irritants that can easily be managed. However, constant sneezing (especially when accompanied by nasal discharge, lethargy, or lack of appetite) could indicate that another illness is present.
If your kitten is sneezing, you may worry that something is wrong. The good news is that there are many normal reasons for a mildly sneezing kitten. Excessive or moderate and severe sneezing should always be checked out by a veterinarian, as respiratory problems and other diseases can lead to infections when left untreated.
What Is Sneezing?
Sneezing is the body's means of removing irritants to the sinuses, and it can mean different things for cats and kittens depending on the consistency. If you notice your kitten sneezing now and then, there's a good chance that it's just reacting to some dust or fur that's tickled its nose. Remember that kittens' noses are just inches from the floor, so if your floor is dusty, you may notice a fair amount of sneezing. There's a simple cure for this issue: Dust and vacuum your floors a bit more frequently and see if the sneezing resolves.
If your kitten has more than just a mild sneeze, possible reasons include allergies, upper respiratory diseases, and more. Foreign objects can also be stuck in your pet's nose without you knowing. In either case, it's important to visit your veterinarian for cases of excessive sneezing to determine whether another problem is the cause.
Symptoms of Sneezing in Cats and Kittens
Sneezing is not an actual disease, but it can be a symptom of other health conditions that may appear alongside other symptoms. If your cat or kitten is sneezing excessively, be on the lookout for other signs including the following:
Nasal Congestion and Discharge
Excessive sneezing can occur in addition to symptoms like nasal congestion and discharge, typically related to a feline upper respiratory infection (URI). These symptoms usually take between 2 and 10 days to develop after the cat was exposed to an infectious agent.
Lethargy or Loss of Appetite
In addition to excessive sneezing, your cat may also act lethargic or lose its appetite (often related to upper respiratory infections). This can lead to anorexia or significant weight loss in cats, so it's important to visit your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Excessive Blinking or Inflammation of the Eyes
If your cat is sneezing very often and also experiencing excessive blinking or inflammation around the eyes, it may have feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR). If these signs are noticed at the same time, your cat should be examined by a veterinarian to begin diagnosis.
Causes of Sneezing
Just like people and other pets, many cats and kittens have allergies. Mold, dust, perfumes, smoke, pesticides, and cleaning supplies can all trigger sneezing. If you think your kitten has an allergy, it's likely reacting to something in the air. You can work to reduce potential allergens in your home, especially in areas where the kitten spends a lot of time, but if your cat's sneezing is more than mild, it's important to visit the vet. There are a variety of treatment options to help cats with allergies.
Polyps, Tumors, or Foreign Objects in the Nasal Cavity
Any object or tissue that is not normally present in the nasal cavity can cause sneezing. Your veterinarian can check for and safely remove foreign objects, which may require sedation, nasal flushing, and/or endoscopy. In some cases, your cat may have a nasal polyp or tumor, which should be treated by your veterinarian and tested to rule out other conditions.
Feline Upper Respiratory Infections
Upper respiratory infections (URI) in cats cause excessive sneezing, and they're often highly contagious to other cats. If you bring a new kitten home with signs of an upper respiratory infection or another illness, it is important to prevent them from socializing with the other cats in the household until the vet has cleared them and their symptoms have resolved.
URIs can sometimes be considered chronic and stay with your cat for life. Thankfully, symptoms typically only present for a few weeks when the virus is reactivated (often due to stress), and your cat can usually live a comfortable life despite the reoccurrence of symptoms from time to time.
Constant sneezing, especially when accompanied by other symptoms (such as lethargy, lack of appetite, eye or nasal discharge, diarrhea, coughing, or breathing difficulties) can also be a sign of viral, bacterial, or fungal upper respiratory infections. If you see these symptoms, you may have a kitten with an illness such as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).
Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis (FVR)
Also known as feline herpes virus, feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR) typically affects the cat's nose, throat, and eyes. Sneezing, nasal congestion, excessive blinking, and discharge from the eyes or nose are all common signs in cats with FVR, so it's possible that your cat's sneezing is caused by this disease (especially when seen with other symptoms).
One fairly common and highly contagious disease that can cause sneezing and breathing issues is feline calicivirus (FCV). Most vets vaccinate kittens so they won't catch this disease, but if they do, it can range from mild to severe. There are, however, several dangerous strains of calicivirus that may affect your cat, so it's important to have your pet checked and treated for any symptoms.
Cats with infected teeth may sneeze when they eat because the roots of their teeth are close to their nasal passages. If this is the case, your cat should see a veterinarian as soon as possible. Dental infections can be life-threatening when left untreated for long periods of time, as problems in the teeth can lead to septic infections.
Diagnosing Sneezing in Cats and Kittens
If your cat or kitten is sneezing excessively, your veterinarian will obtain its full medical history along with performing a physical examination. Learning about your cat's history at home will also help them determine possible causes before further testing, especially if your cat has been in contact with others that may carry certain diseases that lead to this symptom.
Your veterinarian can also perform diagnostic testing (including nasal swabs, radiographs, a nasal flush, or a rhinoscopy) to screen your cat's overall health and rule out other possible causes to find the specific reason for your cat's sneezing.
If the symptoms are more than mild or if your kitten sneezes blood, take it to your veterinarian as soon as possible. They may prescribe an anti-viral treatment, nasal decongestant, or antibiotics depending on what's causing the sneezing. A humidifier near your cat's sleeping area may also help with minor breathing issues.
In some cases, the vet may prescribe steroid treatment. However, after other treatment options have been exhausted, a severe case may require surgery to remove whatever is compromising your cat's breathing.
Prognosis for Cats With Excessive Sneezing
Since there are a variety of reasons that your cat could be sneezing excessively, the prognosis for your specific cat will depend on your veterinarian's diagnosis. Thankfully, most issues that cause cats to sneeze consistently are not life-threatening, but preventing and treating any infections is key. Your veterinarian will recommend appropriate treatment options with a more detailed prognosis based on any other symptoms your cat is experiencing.
How to Prevent Sneezing
If your kitten is sneezing excessively and has no other symptoms, irritants within your home may be to blame. Owners can start helping their cats reduce sneezing by making a few simple changes including the following:
Control Household Irritants
Stop using air fresheners, scented laundry detergents, perfumes, or smoking inside (if applicable). These irritants can all cause cats to sneeze more often than normal. Be careful with any disinfectants you use to clean the home, particularly if the cat walks on the surface you spray and then licks its paw pads. Many disinfectants contain chemicals that can be harmful to cats.
Keep a Clean Litter Box
Thoroughly clean your cat's litter box and other cat-frequented surfaces with plain water following the use of bleach solutions or other cleaning products. About 3/4 cup of plain bleach mixed with a gallon of water makes a safe disinfectant for cleaning your cat's litter box, and it works well for other surfaces including kitchen counters and sinks. Since this cleaning solution leaves a fresh scent, it should also help eliminate the need for any additional air fresheners in the house.
Check your cat's litter as well. Some litters (particularly the clay type) create larger amounts of dust when the cat scratches inside the box, which can exacerbate allergy problems in both cats and humans.
Keep an eye on your cat for a few days. If it shows any other symptoms of an upper respiratory infection (such as watery eyes, sniffling, or coughing), or if it continues sneezing after you've eliminated environmental problems, a visit to the veterinarian is best.
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