What is Sneezing?
There are numerous conditions that are related to sneezing in cats. Some are chronic while others will only occur once. Nasal issues often cause pain to the cat and interfere with its intake of food. Dehydration and malnutrition are very serious issues in cats, especially if the cat is young. The discharge that accompanies the sneezing may be clear, cloudy, bloody or of a yellow/green color. Often a bacterial infection will develop in addition to other infections. Veterinary attention is needed as soon as possible to ensure the best possible outcome for the cat.
When the sensitive nerve endings of the mucous membranes in the nasal cavity lining become irritated, a reflexive expulsion of air happens to remove the irritant. This is referred to as a “sternutation” in the medical community, and is commonly called a sneeze. Cats sneeze for many reasons. Occasional sneezing is a normal function. Severe, sudden sneezing that persists and is accompanied by discharge is not normal. This is an indication that there is a greater problem with the cat’s health.
Symptoms of Sneezing in Cats
While the actual sneezing is quite obvious, other signs may show up that indicate a greater problem with the cat. Watch for any of these symptoms paired with sneezing, as many harmful viruses can affect various parts of the body.
- Pawing at the face
- Nasal discharge
- Eye discharge
- Nose bleeds
- Bad breath
- Frequent swallowing
- Swollen nose
- Loud breathing
- Runny, red eyes
- High fever
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
- Tongue ulcers
- Shifting lameness
Causes of Sneezing in Cats
Many different underlying issues can cause sneezing in a cat. These conditions range in severity. Common causes of sneezing are listed as follows:
- Viral infection
- Bacterial infection
- Fungal infection
- Tick-borne infection
- Foreign object in nose
- Nasal polyps
- Nasal tumors (cancer)
- Dental disease
- Birth defects
Any infection that causes sneezing may turn into an upper respiratory infection which has the potential to develop into pneumonia.
Diagnosis of Sneezing in Cats
After symptoms have been noticed, do not hesitate to bring your cat into a veterinary clinic or animal hospital. Some infections and conditions can progress to life-threatening severity. The veterinarian will require your cat’s full medical history, including vaccinations received, and will inquire about the onset of symptoms. A complete physical examination will be performed to note all visible signs of health issues.
The veterinarian will likely run various tests to determine what condition is present in the cat. Commonly found viruses include feline herpesvirus (FHV), calicivirus, and reovirus. Bordetella, chlamydia, or rhinotracheitis may also be the cause of symptoms. Cytology of nasal discharge and bacteria culture tests may prove to be helpful in identifying viral and bacterial infections. Fungal serology may be used to identify fungi in the cat. Blood tests including a Complete Blood Count and a biochemical profile can assess overall health and confirm the presence of cancer in the cat. X-rays may be needed of the chest if pneumonia is suspected.
Treatment of Sneezing in Cats
To relieve sneezing, the underlying cause must be treated or cured. Most viruses will run their course in one to four weeks. If the cat is very young, the condition may be a medical emergency as kittens respond worse to most infections.
While viral infections cannot be cured, supportive care can greatly improve the cat’s chances of beating the virus. Fluids may need to be replenished intravenously and appetite stimulants may be needed to entice the cat to eat. Humidifiers can help moisten a cat’s nose to ease congestion. Supplements can help boost the immune system to speed up the recovery process.
If nasal tumors or polyps are blocking the nostrils, they may have to be surgically removed. This requires general anesthesia and carries further risks. If tumors are cancerous, chemotherapy and radiation therapy may also be used to treat the condition.
Removal of Foreign Object
Certain objects may get stuck in a cat’s nose. These commonly include seeds or blades of grass. A veterinarian may be able to remove lodged items with special instruments while a cat is under general anesthesia.
As bacterial infection often occurs secondary to other upper respiratory infections, antibiotics are an effective way to rid the body of harmful bacteria. Antibiotic drops or ointments can be used to treat infections that have spread to the eye. Post-surgery, antibiotics will often be prescribed to ward off new infections from occurring.
If a fungal infection is causing the sneezing, antifungal medication can relieve the symptoms and remove the fungi causing the issue.
If the underlying cause has to do with poor dental hygiene, dental health can be corrected to relieve sneezing.
Recovery of Sneezing in Cats
While your cat is healing from an upper respiratory infection, do all you can to strengthen its immune system and limit stress-inducing scenarios in your home. Feed your cat a high quality food and check all of the ingredients to verify it is species appropriate. Do not expose the cat to cigarette smoke, as this can exacerbate sneezing, and remove any synthetic air fresheners from the house. It may be beneficial to invest in an air purifier. Supply the cat with fresh water often.
The cat will most likely not experience a shortened life span, however if a viral infection was present, life long symptoms may arise. In some cases L-Lysine may be administered daily to decrease severity of any flare-ups. It can help greatly to vaccinate kittens for feline herpesvirus to weaken its effect on the cat if infection ever develops. Discuss a proper vaccination schedule with your vet. Sometimes booster shots should not be administered in cats who have suffered from an upper respiratory Infection. The best way to prevent sneezing may be to keep your cat indoors.
Sneezing Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
every once in a while she will have a small sneeze
Sneezing may be caused by a foreign object, allergies, infections, chemical irritation or other causes. If it is every few days I wouldn’t worry, if it is every few minutes to a few hours I would have Sophie checked by her Veterinarian to make sure there isn’t anything serious there. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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