- Cats sneeze for several reasons — Many of these can be resolved at home.
- Your cat may have a respiratory infection — These infections often spread in shelters and multi-cat households.
- Some cats are more prone to respiratory issues — They include flat-faced breeds or immunocompromised cats.
Cat sneezing looks and sounds adorable. However, when a cat sneezes excessively, it may be a symptom of something more serious. If you notice your cat or kitten is congested, use this guide to narrow down the list of culprits. It may be a simple allergen, but you’ll want to rule out something serious like an upper respiratory infection, rhinitis, or sinusitis.
Why do cats sneeze?
Just like their owners, cats sneeze for many reasons, from harmless tickles to upper respiratory infections (URIs). You might also have heard URIs referred to as “cat colds.” In cats, URIs are usually mild and can occur at any time of the year.
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.
9 reasons that cats sneeze
Cats sneeze for all the same reasons humans do: strong smells, a tickly nose, allergies, or an infection. Other possible culprits behind your cat’s sudden sneezing may include:
1. They have an upper respiratory infection
A feline upper respiratory infection is caused by one or more contagious viral or bacterial agents. It often mimics symptoms of a common cold or flu in humans. Symptoms of these infections include:
- Nasal congestion
- Discharge from the nose or eyes
- Loss of appetite
These infections often spread in shelters and multi-cat households and can last anywhere from one to three weeks. They’re more common among kittens and elderly cats, as well as immunocompromised and unvaccinated felines. On rare occasions, these infections may last for the rest of the cat’s life.
2. 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.
3. Chemicals or irritants
Cats 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.
4. Foreign bodies
Your cat might sneeze if they have something trapped in their nose, like a blade of grass, some dust, hair, or a polyp. They’re sneezing to dislodge what’s stuck up there.
5. Asthma and/or allergens
Some cats suffer from feline asthma caused by an allergic reaction. Found among cats that are at least four or five, feline asthma symptoms include sneezing, open-mouthed and labored breathing, coughing, as well as vomiting. If your cat has an asthma attack, you may notice they will hunch and extend the neck forward.
6. 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.
7. Sudden growths
Tumors (cancerous or otherwise) around the nose or nasal cavities can cause sneezing. But, distinguishing a tumor from an inflammatory disease is difficult and should be left to a veterinarian.
8. Cat breed
Breeds with a flatter face, like Persians, Munchkins, Himalayans, and exotic and British shorthairs are all more susceptible to respiratory issues due to smaller nasal passages and less room in their face for tissue to grow. Surgery can help alleviate this.
Dr. Erica Irish
[Cats with] stenotic nares [benefit from surgery], otherwise most brachycephalic cats are "snufflers" for life.
Chronic snufflers explained
When vets say a cat is a “chronic snuffler,” they’re referring to chronic inflammation of the nasal and sinus passages that change the architecture of the nose. 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.
Stenotic nares, on the other hand, are pinched or narrow nostrils that make breathing harder. Weight management and restricting playtime can help, but surgery that opens up narrow nostrils is the most effective and direct way to help with stenotic snares.
9. A weakened immune system
Conditions that reduce the effectiveness of a cat’s immune system make them more prone to sneezing and infection. These include feline leukemia, feline herpes virus, feline calicivirus, or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).
How to find out why your cat is sneezing so much
If sneezing is your cat’s only symptom, start your investigation at home. The following questions can help you establish patterns and work out the cause.
🚨 Sneezing accompanied by a discharge from the eyes or nose, decreased energy, or a loss of appetite means it's time to get to the vet as soon as possible.
How often are they sneezing? Tally your cat’s sneezes in the notes app on your phone or a sheet of paper each day. It may be far less frequent than you think.
Is your cat sneezing in the morning or at night? If it’s every morning after you apply your perfume or deodorant, keep the cat in another room while you get ready for work.
Where are they sneezing? If they sneeze after using the litter box, they may be sensitive to the litter itself. Cleaning chemicals and secondhand smoke are other possible irritants.
Is sneezing accompanied by other symptoms? Sneeze-accompanying symptoms to watch out for include:
- Discharge from nose or eyes (especially if it is green or bloody)
- Loss of appetite or problems chewing
- Audible breathing or excessive snoring and wheezing
- Pinkeye or squinting
If you find that your cat is sneezing and has congestion, even after removing different environmental factors, a vet visit is the next step. Your vet will likely recommend an exam, blood work, and PCR testing to zero in on why your cat has a chronic stuffy nose.
Treat cat sneezing
Once you’ve worked out the underlying cause of your cat’s sneezing, you can begin to treat the issue. Most URIs subside within two weeks, and treatment is as simple as waiting for the “cat cold” to pass while keeping a close eye on your kitty.
For severe cases, your vet may prescribe eye/nose drops or antibiotics. Some at-home treatments will help when your favorite feline isn’t feeling their best:
- Keep their eyes and nose clean — Use damp cotton balls or Q-tips to clean your cat’s runny nose or eye discharge when they weather a cold.
- Provide extra tasty food — Some cats lose their sense of smell during an infection. Give them canned food instead of biscuits to entice them to eat. Plus, it’s softer and easier to chew. A good rule of thumb: the smellier the wet cat food, the more your cat will like it.
- Isolate sick cats — URIs spread easily in multi-cat households. Keep your sick cat separated from other cats until their symptoms improve.
- Make your cat an indoor pet — Cats have allergies to trees and shrubs just like people. Keep your explorer indoors to limit exposure and make sure vaccines are up to date.
- Avoid products with strong scents — Cats and kittens are sensitive to strong scents and chemicals, especially those in cleaning products. Opt for fragrance-free household products. Also, avoid candles, air fresheners, and oil diffusers.
- Do a thorough cleaning — Dust particles, especially in cat litter, can further irritate your pet’s illness (as well as your own!) Regularly empty their litter boxes and try to keep your home as clean as possible.
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Take preventative measures
While vaccines are a preventative measure and won’t help a cat that’s sneezing right now, they may prevent future issues. These vaccinations include:
FVRCP protects against feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia virus. Your vet can only treat the symptoms of these three respiratory diseases, but vaccinating against them can help prevent and lessen their severity. Kittens must be vaccinated as young as eight weeks and receive at least two booster vaccines, four weeks apart. As they age, cats may need yearly boosters based on their risk levels.
Chlamydophila felis vaccine
Though it isn’t considered a core vaccination, it may be recommended if your cat is at a heightened risk of exposure. The chlamydophila felis bacterium can cause conjunctivitis and upper respiratory infections, but vaccination may help control its spread in multi-cat environments such as shelters.
🚨 Excessive sneezing in kittens and elderly cats almost always requires veterinary attention.
Frequently asked questions
How can I prevent my cat from excessive sneezing?
Remove discharge from your cat’s nose, give them canned food and fresh water, and run a humidifier to help alleviate the sneezing. If an allergen is the source of the problem, make sure you remove any exposure to it.
Why is my cat sneezing so much all of a sudden?
An allergen can cause a lot of sneezing — it might be springtime, for example, and you’re keeping the windows open. Infection can also be a cause of sudden and frequent sneezing. With both allergies and infection, tests will rule out different possibilities. Changes to the home may be necessary.
What should I do if my cat is sneezing?
First, don’t panic. Keep your cat inside and watch for other symptoms, like sneezing blood or mucus, lethargy, loss of appetite, or continuous sneezing that doesn’t resolve itself after a few days. If you notice any of this, it’s time for a vet visit.
How can I help my cat with chronic congestion and sneezing?
For cats sick with congestion, you can help by keeping the home clean, helping them stay warm and dry, with plenty of wet food, and investing in a humidifier to keep nasal passages clearer. If you don’t have one, consider taking your feline into the bathroom when you shower for the same benefit.