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The essentials

  • Cat sneezing accompanied by other symptoms is a concern — While the occasional sneeze on its own is usually harmless, symptoms like nasal discharge or loss of appetite can indicate a more serious health issue.
  • A cat’s sneeze can have several different causes — The possible causes are upper respiratory infections, polyps, and dental disease.
  • There are ways you can relieve your cat’s sneezing — As you monitor your cat’s symptoms, clean their discharge, make their food more enticing, and isolate sick pets.

While typically harmless (and adorable), cat sneezing can sometimes be an indication of something more serious — especially when it’s excessive. 

While in many cases it’s just a simple allergen, cat owners will want to rule out conditions like an upper respiratory infection, obstruction, or nasal tumors. Follow this guide to get to the bottom of your kitty’s sneeze and how to treat the sniffles.

8 reasons that cats sneeze

Cats sneeze for the same reasons that humans do. Whether it’s a reaction to air particles, a nose itch, or a new smell they’re not used to, you can rest assured that sneezing on its own is as normal for our whiskered friends as it is for us. It’s only when other symptoms enter the picture that more serious conditions may be at play.

Here are the most common causes of a cat’s sudden sneezing:

1. Upper respiratory infection

Unfortunately, upper respiratory infections (URI) are all too common for our fur babies. Similar to a human cold, it’s caused by bacteria or viruses that enter a cat’s nose, throat, or sinuses. If the condition progresses into the lungs, it can lead to far more serious infections like pneumonia.

In addition to sneezing, an upper respiratory infection can present itself as one or more symptoms, including runny nose, conjunctivitis (pink eye), dehydration, cough, and fever. Loss of appetite is also a symptom, which can result in fatty liver disease or starvation if your furry friend goes too long without eating.

2. Inflammation

Your cat’s sneeze may also point towards inflammation of your cat’s nose or sinuses. Rhinitis and sinusitis are conditions that can exist separately or together (sometimes accompanied by an upper respiratory infection).

Keep an eye out for signs of inflammation like your cat pawing at their face, breathing rapidly, or reverse sneezing. In the case of fungal infections, a lump may appear on the bridge of a cat’s nose. As with any mass that appears on your pet, schedule a vet appointment right away to have it checked out to ensure it’s inflammation and not a tumor.

3. Allergens and irritants

Cats can be sensitive to certain household products, especially when it comes to bleach, ammonia, and formaldehyde. Keep all dishwashing detergent, surface sprays, toilet cleaners, and air fresheners out of reach.

And while they can certainly add a dash of flavor to your stir-fry, cooking spices may also be the culprit of your cat’s sneeze (pepper and cinnamon are the biggest offenders for our feline friends). 

Other common cat allergens and irritants include dust, essential oils, smoke, and fleas. It’s also possible that your cat is having an allergic reaction to the food you’re giving them. If this is the case, they’ll likely begin sneezing shortly after eating.

👉 Asthma-induced flare-ups can be serious for cats. If you notice your kitty is hunched over with labored breathing, seek treatment right away.

4. Foreign body

In some cases, cats sneeze because they have something trapped in their nose. The sneezing is the cat’s attempt to dislodge the object stuck up there. A nosebleed, pawing at the nose, or sudden change in body language can all indicate a nasal obstruction. Objects may block a cat’s airways and cause discomfort or other more serious complications.

Foreign bodies that can find their way into your fur baby’s nose include blades of grass, hair, food, and pieces of their toys.

5. Dental disease

You may be surprised to learn that a cat’s sneeze can be a side effect of an oral health issue. The root canals of a cat’s upper teeth are close to their nasal passage, so an infection can release bacteria into their sinuses.

Symptoms typically associated with feline dental disease are swollen gums, drooling (which can be a sign of gingivitis or periodontitis), bad breath , or vomiting.

6. Cat breed

A cat’s breed can also play a role in their sniffles. Flat-faced cats, or brachycephalic cats, are more susceptible to respiratory issues due to smaller nasal passages and less room in their face for tissue to grow.

Popular flat-faced breeds include Persians, Munchkins, Himalayans, chinchillas, exotic shorthairs, British shorthairs, and Scottish folds.

7. Nasal tumors

Cancerous or benign tumors or polyps around the nose can cause a cat to sneeze. While this is most common in senior cats, it can happen at any stage of life. A tumor will likely present itself as a visible mass on your cat’s nose, but in some cases may be difficult to see. 

Other symptoms that may accompany a cat’s nasal tumor include open skin wounds (in the event your cat has contracted squamous cell carcinoma), difficulty swallowing, and weight loss.

Unfortunately, the prognosis for a feline nasal tumor is generally poor. A cat may undergo radiation therapy to reduce the mass, or chemotherapy in the event it’s cancerous and has spread to other parts of the body. The earlier the condition is treated, the better.

8. Weakened immune system

Health conditions that reduce the effectiveness of a cat’s immune system make them more prone to sneezing. This could include feline leukemia virus (FeLV), feline herpes virus (FHV), feline calicivirus (FCV) — which cats should be vaccinated against — and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).

Your best shot at boosting your cat’s immune system is through exercise, a well-balanced diet, routine check-ups and vaccinations, and limiting contact with possibly infected pets.

Chronic snufflers explained

A “chronic snuffler” is a cat with chronically inflamed nasal and sinus passages that change the architecture of the nose. Their nasal turbinates — tiny little bony scrolls inside the nose — have been eaten away. Affected cats always have nasal discharge issues and a lot of sneezing and snuffling.

When cat sneezing warrants a vet visit

If your cat is only sneezing on occasion without any other symptoms, you can monitor them for a couple of days to see if the behavior persists or worsens. Any other symptoms that accompany their sneeze should be addressed by a veterinarian immediately.

If the cat isn't eating, has bloody or pus-like nasal discharge, has a deformity of the nose or facial areas, or there’s a foul smell from the nose, they should be examined ASAP.

Dr. Bruce Armstrong

🚨 Kittens or elderly cats have weaker immune systems than healthy adult cats and should be promptly brought to the vet or emergency room if they start sneezing frequently.

What to do if your cat is sneezing too much

If sneezing is your cat’s only symptom, you can safely start your investigation at home. Be sure not to panic as it might stress out your cat, which can have further implications on their immune system.

As long as you’re monitoring them and are prepared to schedule a vet appointment if things worsen, you can take steps to find out the root of your cat’s sneeze by following this guide:

Step 1: Consider potential causes

To understand the underlying cause of your cat’s sudden sneezing, you’ll need to look for a pattern in when the behavior occurs and the environment around them at the time it happens. Oftentimes the answer will be right in front of you without you even realizing it. 

Step 2: Provide immediate relief

The sooner you figure out what is triggering your cat’s sneeze, the sooner you can start addressing it. If it’s not worsening or accompanying new symptoms, then you should be able to take steps to remedy the behavior on your own.

Step 3: Prepare for a vet visit

If the above steps work in curbing your cat’s sneeze, great! You now know more about your cat’s sensitivities and how to address them. However, if your cat is still sneezing after two or more days, you should bring them to your veterinarian for a check-up regardless of whether or not new symptoms arise.

Acute, severe onset that is relentless with or without nasal discharge is a very good reason to seek out professional veterinary examination and care soon.

Dr. Bruce Armstrong

How to treat cat sneezing

This highly depends on the cause of your kitty’s sneezing. 

  • Antibiotics. Your vet may want to put your cat on a round of antibiotics to help eradicate any possible bacterial infection. 
  • Drops or fluids. There are no effective antibiotics for viral infections, but eye or nose drops and IV fluids can help alleviate symptoms while the virus runs its course.
  • A humidifier. In the same way humidifiers help clear out our nasal passages, they help our kitties as well. This will moisten their nostrils so their sneezes are more effective in getting rid of irritants.
  • Surgery. If your cat is experiencing a root infection that’s triggering sneezing, a professional extraction may be necessary to remove the contaminated tooth. If a tumor or foreign object is causing your cat’s sneezing, surgery may be required to remove it.

As pet parents, we all want what’s best for our little scruffers, and tend to freak out a little at the onset of any symptoms. When it comes to sneezing, you can look at it the same as you do for yourself, and look for underlying causes that may be triggering such a reaction. 

As long as you’re vigilant about taking your cat to the vet if the condition worsens or is joined by new symptoms, you can breathe easily knowing your cat is behaving naturally.

Frequently asked questions

Why is my cat sneezing so much all of a sudden?

A cat’s sneezing can be caused by allergens, upper respiratory infections, nasal inflammation, foreign objects, and dental disease, among other causes. Tests will rule out different possibilities and changes to the cat’s environment may be necessary.

When should I worry about my cat sneezing?

You should worry about your cat’s sneezing if it is accompanied by other symptoms like nasal discharge, pink eye, or lethargy. You should also consult your veterinarian if the sneeze doesn’t go away in a couple of days, regardless of whether or not other symptoms are present.

Do cat colds go away on their own?

Most cat colds resolve themselves in a week or two if the cat is otherwise healthy, but you should still seek veterinary care as soon as possible to rule out more severe conditions like cat flu or an upper respiratory infection.

What can I give my cat for sneezing?

At home, the best way you can relieve a sneezing cat is by gently dabbing their nose and eyes with a damp cotton ball to remove discharge. You can also use a humidifier to clear their nasal passages. Be sure to consult your veterinarian regarding medication as they will be able to best assess your cat’s needs.

How did my indoor cat catch a cold?

Cat colds are commonly transferred from cat to cat. If you have another sick cat in your household, or if your kitty was recently boarded or brought to a groomer, that is likely how they contracted it.