- Recurring sneezing in kittens may be a sign of serious illness — If left untreated, your kitten may develop severe respiratory symptoms.
- Respiratory infections are common in cats — These types of infections often spread in shelters and multi-cat households and are contagious.
- Vaccinations and at-home care can reduce the severity of infection —The core vaccine FVRCP in particular protects against some major respiratory illnesses.
Kitten sneezes may look and sound adorable, but excessive sneezing can convey a sign of serious illness if left untreated. These can include upper respiratory infection, rhinitis, or sinusitis. If you notice your kitten has been especially congested, use this guide to narrow down the list of culprits.
4 reasons your kitten might be sneezing
1. They have an upper respiratory infection — A feline upper respiratory infection refers to an infection caused by one or more contagious viral or bacterial agents. It often mimics symptoms of a common cold or flu in humans. These include nasal congestion, sneezing, conjunctivitis, discharge from the nose or eyes, dehydration, loss of appetite, and lethargy. These types of 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.
2. They are suffering from rhinitis and sinusitis — Rhinitis refers to the inflammation of the mucous membranes of the nose. Sinusitis is the inflammation of the lining of the sinuses. When these occur together, it’s known as rhinosinusitis. It can exist alone or alongside upper respiratory infections. Rhinosinusitis is most commonly caused by a viral infection and presents with symptoms like nasal discharge, sneezing, pawing at the face, snoring, and open-mouth or labored breathing.
3. They are experiencing asthma or allergies — Your kitten’s sneezing could be a result of feline asthma, which is caused by an allergic reaction. More common among cats averaging 4-5 years, feline asthma symptoms include some sneezing, open-mouthed and labored breathing, coughing, as well as vomiting. If your cat is having an asthma attack, you may notice they will hunch and extend the neck forward.
4. They are suffering the side effects of a recent vaccination — Kittens, like most pets, may experience mild side effects after receiving a core vaccine. These include sneezing, mild coughing, discomfort at the vaccination site, mild fever, as well as decreased appetite and activity. Life-threatening side effects, including allergic reactions, persistent diarrhea or vomiting, difficulty breathing, hives, or persistent swelling, are less common but may occur.
How to treat sneezing in kittens
Your veterinarian will likely diagnose your kitten based on characteristic clinical signs. In more serious cases, they’ll administer testing through X-rays, blood tests, or bacteria culture and sensitivity testing. They will then recommend one or more of the following treatment options to help keep illness at bay and clear up your pet’s nasal passages:
- Antibiotics. Antibiotics can help treat conjunctivitis, as well as primary bacterial upper respiratory infections. Specifically, antibiotics help target bordetella, chlamydophila, or mycoplasma. Doxycycline or azithromycin are two common antibiotics that may help reduce sneezing and other symptoms.
- Saline nasal spray. Saline drops used 2-3 times a day may help clear up your kitten’s nasal passage. Remember to use products without decongestants i.e. saline-only solutions.
- Humidifier. Place your kitten in a room with a humidifier, or supervised near a hot, running shower for 10-15 minutes at a time to help aid nasal congestion.
- Nasal lavage. Nasal flushes may be recommended periodically for kittens with more severe nasal discharge to help dislodge blockages.
At-home remedies to help your kitten recover
Besides the treatment options above, your veterinarian may recommend some environmental changes to help your sneezy kitten feel better.
- Keep your outdoor cat indoors — Out of sight, external environmental factors (and pollen!) leading to your kitten’s illness are much more difficult to manage. So, consider keeping your explorer indoors, make sure they are clean and dry, and watch their environment at home.
- Avoid products with strong scents — Kittens are extremely sensitive to scents and strong chemicals, especially those in cleaning products. Opt for fragrance-free household cleaners and bath or body products with stronger scents. Also, stop the use of candles, air fresheners, and oil diffusers.
- Don’t smoke cigarettes or marijuana around your kitten — Your kitten’s nasal passage and sinuses are extremely sensitive. They can easily become further irritated by secondhand tobacco or marijuana smoke.
- Clean! — Dust particles, especially in kitty litter, can further irritate your pet’s illness. So, make sure you regularly empty their litter boxes and try to keep your home as clean as possible.
How to prevent respiratory illness in kittens
The bacteria and viruses that lead to the most common respiratory infections in kittens are highly contagious and often unavoidable, but here are a few vet-approved precautions you can take to reduce the severity of infection:
- FVRCP vaccine. One of the core vaccinations for cats, 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 8 weeks old 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 for cats, a vaccine that protects against feline chlamydophila may be recommended if your kitten is at 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 where verified infections have occurred.
- Hemorrhagic calicivirus vaccine: Hemorrhagic calicivirus is a rare, more serious form of the type of calicivirus protected by the FVRCP vaccine that causes hemorrhage-like fever and high mortality. The vaccine used to treat hemorrhagic calicivirus comes with an increased risk of reaction, so you and your veterinarian will need to weigh its benefits and risks.
When you should see a vet
The following symptoms are not necessarily just associated with respiratory upset. However, they might indicate a more serious health problem requiring immediate veterinary attention.
🚨 A general rule of thumb: Excessive sneezing in kittens and elderly cats almost always requires veterinary attention.
- Discharge from nose or eyes. Nasal and eye discharge can be associated with a variety of conditions, including epiphora, which presents as excess fluid near the tear ducts. Epiphora is caused by blockage of the nasolacrimal ducts or poor eyelid function due to a deformity.
- Loss of appetite. Decreased appetite and food intake can suggest potentially dangerous conditions, such as anorexia and pseudo-anorexia. Pseudo-anorexia refers to when a kitten wants to eat but is having trouble chewing, swallowing, or picking up their food. Both may be a sign of advanced dental disease, cancer, or other serious illnesses.
- Weight loss. Healthy kittens are ravenous, so any weight loss is cause for concern.
- Scratching. If your kitten is particularly itchy, they may be dealing with parasites, allergens, or infections. These may need varying treatments.
- Sudden growths. Tumors in the cranium, particularly around the nose or nasal cavities, can cause sneezing. But, distinguishing a tumor from an inflammatory disease is difficult and the task should be left to a veterinarian.
- Persistent sneezing. This may be a sign of a chronic infection requiring immediate attention and sustained management.
Frequently asked questions
Why is my kitten sneezing so much?
Your kitten’s sneezing may be a result of a respiratory infection, sensitivity to certain scents, or allergen. But persistent sneezing can also indicate a more serious illness, so visit your vet if you’re unsure of the cause.
What home remedy can I give my cat for sneezing?
The best thing you can do to your home environment to help clear your kitten’s nasal passages is to keep it clean and humid. Scoop and clean their litter box regularly. Also, consider investing in a humidifier, or self-humidify the air with a steamy shower.
When should I worry about my kitten sneezing?
If you notice recurring sneezing, decreased appetite, or other symptoms of upper respiratory infection, seek immediate veterinarian care.
How can I help my cat with chronic congestion and sneezing?
Always ensure your kitten’s vaccinations are up to date. Visit the veterinarian for any necessary medications. And, keep your environment safe and comfortable for your recovering kitty.