Why Is My Cat Sneezing?

1 August 2022

Does your cat sneeze too much? Find out what causes sneezing in cats and how to help your furry friend find relief from frequent sneezing.

cat sitting on the examination table at a vets office

Achoo! Sneezing is the body’s way of clearing irritants like smoke, dust, and pollen from the nasal passages. And when your kitty sneezes, you have to admit it’s kind of cute! A few cat sneezes here and there are no big deal, but excessive sneezing in cats can signal a more serious condition. Discover the potential reasons for a cat sneezing and how you can help your kitty avoid illness. And while you’re here, find out if insurance for your cat might be a good idea!

Why do cats sneeze? Is there a pattern?

Just as in humans, cat sneezes occur when the nose becomes irritated by particles in the air or by a virus. During a sneeze, air is forced out of the nose, whisking away the annoying irritant. 

But watch your cat closely – their sneeze may not be a sneeze! Your cat may be coughing, gagging, reverse sneezing, hiccupping, or retching. So before you seek treatment for your cat’s sneezing issues, make sure they’re actually sneezing. Take a video of the sneezing episode to show your vet to help them understand the problem. 

Notice if there is a pattern to your cat’s sneezing. Does it happen at the same time every day? Does your kitty always sneeze upon entering a certain room in your house? Determining if there’s a pattern to your cat’s sneezing can help narrow down the cause. 

Causes of sneezing in cats

Once you know when, where, and how often your cat’s sneezes are happening, it’s time to figure out why your kitty is sneezing. Here are some of the common reasons that cats sneeze. 

Upper respiratory infections

Upper respiratory infections, which are caused by viruses, are the most likely reason that your cat is sneezing. These viral infections are a lot like the common cold that we humans experience, and they can range from mild to severe. 

The most common virus to cause upper respiratory infections in cats is Feline Herpesvirus 1 (FHV-1). Cats infected with FHV-1 experience sneezing, nasal discharge, coughing, and conjunctivitis. FHV-1 is passed from cat to cat through oral, nasal, or eye secretions. An FHV-1 infection usually runs its course in four to seven days. Like all herpes viruses, FHV-1 is rarely cleared from the cat’s body. Instead, it lies dormant and flares up from time to time. Seasonal changes, stress and other factors can spur a flare-up. Ask your veterinarian about treatments to decrease viral reproduction and ease your kitty’s symptoms. 

Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is another virus that can cause your cat to sneeze. FIV attacks and weakens your cat’s immune defenses, so it becomes easier for affected cats to develop respiratory infections. Similar to HIV in humans (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), FIV is not common – only a small percentage of cats show exposure to the virus. Humans cannot be infected by FIV. This virus is usually transmitted from cat to cat through bites that break the skin and allow bodily fluids to mingle. 

Feline Calicivirus is another organism that can cause sneezing in cats. This virus is highly contagious and causes upper respiratory infections in cats. It can also cause other seemingly unrelated ailments, including chronic gingivitis (gum inflammation) and limping due to joint inflammation.

Nasal and sinus issues

Inflammation of the tissues lining the nose and sinuses can cause a “stuffy nose” in your kitty. These conditions, called rhinitis and sinusitis, are common complications of an upper respiratory infection. Your cat will probably have eye and nose discharge and may paw at their face. 

Chronic upper respiratory conditions

When your cat sneezes very often every single day for weeks, they may be experiencing a chronic upper respiratory condition. When a cat suffers from this a chronic upper respiratory condition, it often means that their nasal passages and immune system have been damaged or weakened from previous infections. This type of condition will not resolve on its own, so get advice from your veterinarian on supportive treatments that will make your kitty more comfortable. 

Allergens or foreign material

Particles in the air or scented household items can irritate your cat’s nasal passages and cause sneezing or an allergic reaction. Perfume, mold, pollen, dust, scented candles, cleaning chemicals, litter box dust, and smoke can bring on a sneezing attack in your fluffy friend.

Cat Pollen Allergy: What To Do If Your Cat Is Allergic to Pollen

Sometimes, a larger object, like a piece of grass or small clump of dirt may lodge in your kitty’s nose as they explore their environment. By sneezing, your cat’s body is trying to expel the object naturally. If sneezing doesn’t do the trick and you are certain that an object is lodged in your cat’s nose, a trip to the vet is needed ASAP. Foreign material lodged in the nose can cause a breathing blockage.

cat laying down looking sick with a human hand on their head

Inflammation or infection of a tooth

You might be unaware that dental problems can cause your cat to sneeze, but it’s true. The roots of the teeth in a cat’s upper jaw are right beside the nasal passages, so any infection of the teeth can affect the nasal passages. When a cat’s tooth root is infected or inflamed, it can create drainage into the sinuses and cause sneezing. Gingivitis, abscesses, ulcers, rotting teeth, and other dental diseases can cause sneezing, especially when an infection becomes established in the sinuses. Your veterinarian can diagnose this condition and solve your kitty’s sneezing problem.

Bacterial infections

Bacterial infections are usually secondary to the initial cause of your cat’s sneezing. For example, a virus gives your cat an upper respiratory infection. But some fluid created during the upper respiratory infection could get trapped in the sinuses, and bacteria and viruses can grow in that fluid, causing inflammation or infection. Unlike viral infections, bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics. Make an appointment with your veterinarian if you suspect your cat has a bacterial infection.

Fungal infections

A fungus called cryptococcus can grow in your cat’s nasal passages and cause your cat to sneeze. To determine if there is a fungal infection in your kitty’s nose, your veterinarian will need to collect a sample and have it analyzed.  Luckily there are treatment options for fungal infections in cats. 

Neoplasia (nasal tumors)

Nasal tumors are an unlikely but possible cause of your cat’s persistent sneezing. Older cats are more at risk for nasal tumors, which make up less than 1% of all tumors in cats. Nasal tumors will typically cause nasal discharge and possibly sneezing, among other symptoms. If your cat exhibits noisy breathing along with sneezing and drainage from the nose, it’s a good idea to get it checked out as soon as possible. 

Feline leukemia

A virus that infects only cats, feline leukemia can present itself with a wide array of symptoms, including those that mimic an upper respiratory infection. A cat with feline leukemia may cough, sneeze, or have discharge from the eyes and nose. Cats may also become lethargic, lose weight, and experience a loss of appetite. Your veterinarian will need to perform a blood test to determine if your cat has feline leukemia. Fortunately, there is a vaccine available to prevent your cat from becoming infected. Ask your veterinarian if they recommend this vaccine based on your cat’s lifestyle.

How to stop a cat from catching a cold

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. For your cat, this means keeping your furry friend healthy on a daily basis to keep them from catching a cold. 

Keeping your kitty on schedule with annual and seasonal vaccinations is the most important way to protect them from vaccine-preventable illnesses. 

Maintain a solid foundation for your cat’s health by providing nutritious food, fresh water, daily play sessions, belly rubs, and plenty of opportunities to chill out on your lap. After all, you are your cat’s favorite human (even if they sometimes act like they don’t care)!

grey and white kitten laying down on back looking up

How do you treat a sneezing cat?

Before you can treat a sneezing cat, you need to know what’s causing the sneezing. Take some time to observe your cat closely and note how frequent they sneeze, if there’s nasal discharge, or eye discharge. If sneezing episodes sound unusual, take a video so your vet can see and hear your cat sneezing. Then make an appointment with your veterinarian to review what you’ve observed and explain all of your cat’s symptoms.

Your vet may take some samples and run a few tests to try and determine the cause of your cat’s sneezing. There are a few non-medication options for treating the symptoms of stuffy nose and upper respiratory infections in cats. 

Nasal lavage 

In nasal lavage, the cat is placed under anesthesia and a sterile fluid is used to flush out the nasal passages. This procedure can help dislodge a foreign body, or provide relief from congestion. 

Humidifier

A humidifier may help your cat find relief from sneezing and congestion, especially in cold dry weather. Place a small room humidifier, available at most drug stores and big box stores, near the places where your cat sleeps and turn it on at night. The humidity created by this device can help to thin the mucus in the nasal passages, allowing it to drain away more readily. 

Accupressure

Accupressure can be applied in precise locations on your cat’s face to help encourage drainage form the nasal passages and sinuses. 

Is it normal for my cat to sneeze multiple times in a row?

An occasional sneeze is most likely nothing to worry about. But what if your kitty has a sneezing fit and sneezes three, four, or more times in a row? That’s normal too. Just keep an eye on your furball to see if the sneezing increases or persists for several days. 

What to do when you feel like your cat is sneezing too much

If you worry that your cat is sneezing too much, take a closer look. Does your kitty show other symptoms, like eye discharge or a runny nose? Are they eating less, or are they lethargic? It’s all of these symptoms together that may signal a problem to the veterinarian. A few sneezes a day are not anything to worry about in the absence of other symptoms.

When is it time to see a vet?

If your kitty sneezes only once in a while, and has no other symptoms of illness, a visit to the vet is probably not needed (except for regular checkups and to get annual vaccinations, of course).

If frequent sneezing happens and your cat has other symptoms like discharge from the eyes and nose, a visit to the veterinarian may be warranted. After all, some of the causes of sneezing in cats can be serious. If your cat exhibits one or more of the symptoms below in addition to sneezing, give the vet’s office a call. 

  • Nasal discharge
  • Abnormal breathing or difficulty breathing
  • Eye discharge
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pawing at the face

Your vet will be able to recommend the right treatment for your cat’s sneezing, based on the cause. So don’t hesitate to bring your kitty in for an appointment – your cat depends on you for their health and safety. 

You and your cat’s care team can work together to keep your kitty healthy and sneeze-free!

Shop Cat Trackers

Related posts

Need help with your tracker or account? Get Support

Random posts