—Feline Behavior Specialist 🇺🇸
Just like humans, there are many reasons cats sneeze, and not all of them are because they’re sick.
If your cat just sneezes every now and then, it’s probably because they had a tickle or inhaled a piece of dust. Even strong odors like tobacco or perfumes can make them sneeze. Now, repeated sneezing could indicate a more serious issue.
Let’s look at the most common reasons cats sneeze, and when you may want to reach out to your vet.
Cats can get lint, fur, or even blades of grass stuck in their noses. They’ll start sneezing, which is the body’s way to dislodge the object.
Other symptoms include pawing at the nose, snorting, coughing, gagging, repeated swallowing, and nasal discharge. If the foreign body doesn’t come out, the cat is at risk for an infection.
One way to dislodge the foreign body is with a nasal flush, which would be performed by your vet. If you think your cat has a foreign body stuck in their nose, reach out to your vet immediately.
One of the most common reasons cats sneeze is because of a kitty cold or upper respiratory infection (URI). The two most common viruses are the feline herpes virus or calicivirus.
Most cats are exposed to URIs when they are very young, and just about every cat has had one or both of the viruses at some point in their life.
These viruses lay dormant in your cat’s body, but they can be brought back to life by stress. While your cat received their annual FVRCP vaccine, which offers them some protection, these viruses are sort of like the flu—always mutating.
Typically, the first kitty cold is the worst, and any flare-ups tend to be milder after that. While the initial virus usually hangs around for 7-21 days, flare-ups are usually shorter (as long as the cat is healthy).
Cats in low-stress environments tend to be okay, but cats in stressful situations, like shelters, are more likely to get sicker because stress weakens the immune system.
One of the biggest issues, when a cat has a cold, is their nose is congested so they can’t smell. And if they can’t smell, they can’t taste (just like us), which makes them less inclined to eat or drink. Not eating for a short time is okay, but the bigger concern is they can get dehydrated if they aren’t drinking water or eating wet food.
If your kitty sounds congested, there are a few things you can do at home to help them.
You can use over-the-counter saline drops for human babies to clear their nose.
You can also put the cat in a room with a humidifier (make sure you do NOT use menthol, cats hate it), and just run it with plain water so the steam comes out. If you don’t have a humidifier, you can just put your cat in the bathroom and run the shower on hot to create steam. This will help clear your cat’s nasal passages.
Once they can smell, their appetite should return. To encourage your cat to eat, you can try adding more water to wet food and heating it in the microwave for a few seconds so it gets smelly.
You’ll want to take your cat to the vet if the sneezing from their kitty cold is accompanied by yellow or green discharge from the nose, discharge from the eyes, fever, loss of appetite, and lethargy.
They may have a secondary infection that needs an antibiotic, like bordetella, mycoplasma, or chlamydia.
Sometimes steroids or eye drops are also prescribed. It also isn’t a bad idea to ask your vet if your cat would benefit from SubQ fluids (to help with hydration).
Chronic Upper Respiratory Issues
Some cats have chronic inflammation in their nasal passages, referred to as chronic rhinitis. Symptoms usually start with sneezing, then progress to nasal discharge, and sometimes discharge from the eyes, loss of appetite and lethargy.
While we know repeated URIs can change the passages of the nose and sinuses and lead to chronic respiratory issues, that isn’t always the reason for nasal inflammation. A cleft palate can also cause chronic upper respiratory issues. While both of these are possibilities, the truth is, the real reason why some cats struggle with chronic nasal inflammation is unknown.
The actual treatment varies greatly based on each individual case, so you’ll most likely need to see a specialist or internal medicine vet to put together a plan to manage the issues long-term.
Diagnostics include a CT scan, rhinoscopy, and biopsy. Frequent long doses of antibiotics, steroids, prescribed nasal drops, or even a nasal flush are just a few ways to manage chronic nasal issues.
Although much less common than URIs, fungal infections occur when a cat inhales a fungal spore. Symptoms include sneezing, nasal discharge, nasal growths, and swelling over the bridge of the nose.
Possible fungal infections include Aspergillus and cryptococcus.
Aspergillus is found in dead leaves and decaying vegetation, compost piles, and stored grain.
Cryptococcus is usually from bird feces, but it can also be in decaying vegetation. It can take several months of treatment with antifungal drugs to clear these fungal infections, and sometimes surgery is needed to remove growths.
A nasal polyp is a non-cancerous growth made of inflammatory cells most frequently found in a young cat’s nose. The cause isn’t known, but possible causes include genetics, an inflammatory response to upper respiratory issues, or a combination of both. In addition to sneezing, a cat with a nasal polyp may have trouble breathing or have nasal congestion.
In order to properly diagnose, your vet may want to do a rhinoscopy, X-ray, or CT scan.
The treatment is to surgically remove the growth, but nasal polyps have a 15-20% chance of regrowth, requiring more surgery down the line.
You probably think allergies are a top reason cats sneeze, but it’s actually extremely rare for a cat to sneeze because of allergies.
Allergies in cats typically present as redness on a cat’s skin in the ears, above the eyes, around the mouth, and even around the neck. Cats will frequently scratch these areas, so you may see scratches or small wounds on the skin.
If your cat is scratching and sneezing, it’s possible the two are related. However, if your cat has asthma, they’re more likely to sneeze than just with allergies alone.
Excessive sneezing can be the result of a nasal tumor.
Cancer in the nose, like cancer in the mouth, is particularly hard to treat because of how small the nose is. It’s extremely difficult to remove bad tissue. A rhinoscopy and biopsy will need to be performed to diagnose it, and the prognosis is usually poor.
Now you know the main reasons why your cat is sneezing. If you’ve never seen it, I highly suggest you go to YouTube and google kittens sneezing. It will likely be the cutest thing you see all week. You’re welcome :-)
Barnette, Catherine. VCA Hospitals, Nasal Polyps in Cats.
BluePearl Specialists. BluePearl, Cat Sneezing: Does Your Cat Have a Cold?
Cornejo, Lilian. DVM 360, Sneezes, Snots, and Sniffles.
Miller, Michael Everett. PetMD, Why Is My Cat Sneezing?
Paul, Mike. PetHealth Network, 7 Causes of Cat Sneezing.
Forever Vets Animal Hospital, Why Is My Cat Sneezing a Lot?
Article by Elizabeth Italia 🙋♀️
Cat Behavior & Fostering Specialist