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cat parent must-knows

Cat sneezing, explained

Cat sneezes are cute but potentially problematic. Here’s what you need to know.

Updated November 23, 2020

Created By

Lauren Cocking,
Cat sneezes making funny expression. Sick cat needs treatment. Cat with white chin isolated on white background.

gesundheit

The essentials

  • Cats can sneeze for a number of reasons — Many of these can be resolved at home
  • Sneezing accompanied by other symptoms always requires veterinary attention — Symptoms to look out for include nasal discharge, loss of appetite, and lethargy.
  • Some cats are more prone to sneezing and respiratory issues These include flat-faced breeds or immunocompromised cats.

Why is my cat sneezing so much?

Maybe you’ve noticed your cat start to sneeze more frequently, or maybe they’ve been sneezing for a day or two. Either way, you’re getting a bit concerned.

Cats sneeze for a number of different reasons, just like their owners. These reasons can range from the occasional sneeze caused by harmless tickles to upper respiratory infections (URIs). You might also have heard URIs referred to as ‘cat colds.’ Similar to the common cold in humans, they’re common, usually mild, and can occur all-year round. There are even some cat breeds that are more prone to URIs and sneezing (see below).

🚨 Sneezing in kittens or elderly cats always requires veterinary attention. 

You might also be confusing ‘normal’ sneezing for reverse sneezing, or your cat may be doing both.

Reverse sneezing is when your cat breathes in so forcefully that it makes their soft palate spasm. This can sound alarmingly like your cat is choking or unable to breathe but that’s not the case, so don’t panic.

Cat breeds more prone to sneezing and respiratory infection

  • Persians
  • Scottish folds
  • Exotic shorthairs
  • Burmese
  • Selkirk Rexes
  • British shorthairs
  • Himalayans
  • Munchkins

7 of the most common reasons that cats sneeze

Cats can sneeze for all the same reasons humans do — strong smells, a tickly nose, an allergy, or an infection. Sneezing is even a potential side effect of an intranasal vaccine. However, these are some of the most common reasons your cat’s suddenly sneezing.

  • Upper respiratory infections (URIs). Persistent sneezing in cats is most typically caused by upper respiratory infections, especially when accompanied by symptoms such as discharge from the eyes or nose, lethargy, and loss of appetite. These can be bacterial infections, viral infections, or fungal infections, and can be both acute and chronic. URIs sound scary but they’re a common cause of sneezing in cats that can be easily and effectively treated.
  • Inflamed sinuses or rhinitis. These issues can exist separately or together and sometimes accompany upper respiratory infections. Alongside sneezing, your cat may have nasal discharge, watery eyes, and start to snore, or breathe heavily through the mouth.
  • Chemicals or irritants. Cat’s noses are sensitive. They might sneeze because of harsh cleaning products, cigarette smoke, air fresheners, candles, essential oils, strongly scented litter in their litter box, or simply because they found their way into a dusty corner of your house.
  • Foreign bodies. Your cat might sneeze if they have something trapped in their nose, like a blade of grass, some dust, or hair. They’re sneezing in an effort to dislodge what’s stuck up there.
  • Allergens. Allergy-related breathing problems in cats are not as common as in humans but can occur, especially if your cat has asthma. Look out for watery eyes, wheezing, coughing, and sneezing.
  • Dental disease. If your cat has an infected tooth or other dental issues, it can cause sinus problems. These sinus problems can in turn cause sneezing.
  • Cancer. In very rare cases, tumors in the nasal passages can cause sneezing.

How to find out why your cat is sneezing so much

If you’re getting concerned about your adult cat’s frequent sneezing, it’s time to play detective and figure out exactly what’s causing it. As long as they’re showing no other symptoms, you can start your investigations at home. The following questions can help you figure out any patterns in their sneezing and work out the cause.

🚨 Go straight to the vet if your adult cat’s sneezing is accompanied by discharge from the nose or eyes, decreased energy, and a loss of appetite. These could be warning signs of a more serious problem. 

  1. How often are they actually sneezing on a daily basis? It’s normal for pet owners to worry about their furry friend’s health, so keep track of how much your cat is actually sneezing on a daily basis. It may be far less frequent than you think.
  2. Are they sneezing at the same time or in the same place every day? Working out when and where your cat sneezes can give you clues to the underlying cause. If it’s every morning after you apply your perfume or deodorant, maybe you need to keep kitty in another room while you’re getting ready for work. If they’re sneezing after using the litter box, they may be sensitive to the litter itself.
  3. Is the sneezing accompanied by other symptoms? If your cat’s sneezing isn’t a standalone symptom, you need to see a vet as they may have a URI or another underlying issue. Sneeze-accompanying symptoms to watch out for include:
  • Discharge from nose or eyes (especially if it is green or bloody)
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite or problems chewing
  • Drooling
  • Hiding
  • Audible breathing or excessive snoring and wheezing
  • ‘Pink eye’ or squinting

👉 Cats with weakened immune systems are more prone to sneezing and infection, including those with feline leukemia, the feline herpes virus, feline calicivirus, or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).

cleaning nose kitten in a veterinary clinic. isolated on white

This kitty's getting a nose swab

How to treat your sneezing cat

Once you’ve worked out the underlying cause for your cat’s sneezing, you can begin to treat the issue. Most URIs in cats are mild and pass on their own in 7-10 days, so ‘treatment’ can be as simple as waiting for the ‘cat cold’ to pass while keeping a close eye on your kitty. In more severe cases, your vet may prescribe eye/nose drops or antibiotics. There are also some at-home treatments that will help your sneezing kitty:

  • Keep your cat’s eyes and nose clean. Use damp cotton balls or Q-Tips to clean your cat’s runny nose or eye discharge if they’re weathering a ‘cat cold’.
  • Provide extra tasty food. If your cat’s sneezing is caused by an infection, they may have lost their sense of smell. Giving them canned food instead of biscuits can entice them to eat. Plus, it’s softer and easier to chew.
  • Keep them away from your other pets. URIs can spread easily between animals in close proximity so keep them away from your other pets until their symptoms improve.

How to stop your cat from sneezing

If you want to stave off a potential URI before it occurs in your kitty, here are some at-home ways to help them stop sneezing.

Stop using products with harsh scents and strong chemicals This includes household cleaning products and dusty or scented cat litter. If you use deodorants and perfumes, spray them out of the way of your cat. Also, avoid lighting candles or using air fresheners or essential oils. And don’t smoke around your pets!

Stay up-to-date on vaccinations — Vaccinations improve and protect your cat’s overall health. Staying up-to-date on vaccinations and checkups can help eliminate potential root causes of sneezing and infection.

Keep them warm and dry — If you have an outdoor cat, make sure to dry them off if they’ve gotten wet outdoors.

Invest in a humidifier — For cats and humans alike, dry air can cause all sorts of respiratory and sinus problems. Running a humidifier can help prevent sneezing and infections before they even occur.

👉 If you don’t have access to a humidifier, take your kitty into the bathroom with you when you shower instead!