- 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 are contagious and often spread in shelters and multi-cat households.
- 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 can look and sound adorable. Occasionally, sneezing in kittens is perfectly normal, as kittens can sneeze for the same reasons people do. Cat sneezes can happen because of common causes like a simple itch in the nose caused by dust, smoke or fur particles in the air. Once in a while, an occasional sneeze or even a sneezing fit that happens once in a while from your kitty is nothing to worry about.
But when a kitten is sneezing excessively, it may be a sign of a more serious condition. Kittens who sneeze more during certain times of the year may be experiencing seasonal allergies. If your kitten’s sneezing doesn’t seem to be related to high pollen counts, it’s possible they have another condition, such as an 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.
Why is my kitten sneezing?
There are a lot of reasons why your kitty could come down with a case of the sneezes. Some may be completely harmless, such as getting some dust or hair up their nose. But there are other causes of excessive sneezing in kittens which are cause for concern, including allergies, infections, or feline asthma.
Just like their cat parents, our kitties can also be prone to allergies. But unlike their humans, sneezing isn’t the most common symptom when a cat has allergies. More often, cats with allergies have skin irritations or what’s known as atopic dermatitis. This can include hair loss, excessive itching and scratching, and even skin lesions.
When your kitty comes into direct contact with an irritant that triggers an allergic reaction, their immune system releases histamine, which in turn causes their skin to become irritated. Although skin issues are the most common symptom when it comes to kitten allergies, they may also sneeze, wheeze, cough, or have watery eyes. Other symptoms of allergies in cats include:
- Excessive head shaking
- Vomiting or producing more hairballs than normal
- Redness and inflammation around the chin, paws, mouth, or anus
- Ear or skin infections
Allergies in kittens can be caused by three main sources:
- Environmental – Seasonal allergies in kittens occur in the spring and typically last until early summer. Kitties can be affected by pollen from trees, grass, and weeds. Other types of environmental allergies include mold or mildew in the home, plants, other animals, or even household items like perfume, smoke, or household cleaners.
- Food – It’s possible your kitten’s food is what’s causing them to have an allergic reaction. If symptoms occur but don’t seem to be related to a seasonal issue, talk to your vet about switching up your kitty’s food to see if that may be causing the problem.
- Insects – Outdoor cats may be more susceptible to this. Fleas can be an irritant for your kitty, or they may be allergic to another type of insect. Dust mites are also an irritant that can affect both indoor and outdoor kittens.
Upper respiratory infections
A feline upper respiratory infection (also known as a URI) is an infection caused by one or more viral or bacterial agents. It often mimics symptoms of a common cold or flu in humans and can be extremely contagious among felines. Symptoms include:
- Nasal discharge that can be clear, yellow, green, or even bloody in extreme cases
- Poor appetite
- Watery or runny eyes
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Ulcers on the tongue or mouth
- Repeated swallowing
- Difficulty breathing
These types of viral or bacterial infections often spread in animal shelters and multi-cat households and can last anywhere from one to three weeks.
The good news is that many of these infections are mild cases and will usually resolve on their own, though some sick cats may require veterinary attention to treat more severe cases, and others may be prone to URIs their entire life. They’re more common among kittens and elderly cats, as well as immuno-compromised and unvaccinated felines. It’s very important to make sure your kitten is vaccinated to prevent them from contracting or spreading illness.
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 .
These conditions can happen on their own or can be caused by an existing upper respiratory infection. 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.
Your kitten’s sneezing could be a result of feline asthma, which is most commonly 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. When a kitten is having an asthma attack , you may notice they will hunch and extend the neck forward. However, this posture is also a sign of more harmless issues, like coughing up a hairball or reverse sneezing. A cat parent who notices their kitten experiencing these symptoms should make an appointment with their veterinarian to determine the true cause.
Just like humans, a kitten may inhale blades of grass or other foreign objects, causing them to sneeze. Outdoor kittens are especially prone to sneezing due to foreign objects, since they are exposed to the elements more often. Fur, dust particles or another object that gets stuck up a cat’s nose will cause them to sneeze in order to expel the object. Kittens who can’t get the object out of their nose by sneezing it out may develop an infection if the object isn’t removed.
Reaction to a vaccine
Like most pets, kittens may experience mild side effects after receiving a core vaccine. Sneezing is not a typical reaction to the feline vaccinations your kitten receives from their veterinarian. Common vaccine reactions include 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 stop your kitten sneezing
Your veterinarian will likely diagnose your kitten based on characteristic clinical signs. In more serious cases, they’ll administer testing through X-rays, a CT or MRI scan, 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.
Home remedies to try
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. Select a dust-free, scent-free cat litter to help prevent additional irritants that could bother your kitty.
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 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 where verified infections have occurred.
- Hemorrhagic calicivirus vaccine: Hemorrhagic feline 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 dental disease, cancer, or other serious illnesses.
- Weight loss. Healthy kittens are ravenous, so any weight loss is a 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.
👉 Many sick visits to your veterinarian are covered by pet insurance. It’s recommended to get this early on to better help against future costs.
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 as there may be a more severe underlying cause.
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.