What is Sneezing?
Sneezing is a common occurrence in cats and she may just have a tickle in her nose, but many times your cat is suffering from an upper respiratory infection or feline virus. If your cat is just sneezing one or two times once in awhile, it is probably nothing. However, if she is sneezing often and has a runny nose and eyes, your cat may be allergic to something in the home such as dust mites or cleaners. There are many other causes of sneezing, but some of the most common include:
- Upper respiratory infection
- Fungal infection such as cryptococcosis or aspergillosis
- Herpes virus
- Feline calicivirus
- Feline leukemia
- Nasal polyps
If your cat just sneezes a few times once in awhile, you should not worry about it. Just wait and see if any other symptoms develop. However, if she is sneezing constantly, has red, runny eyes, discharge from the nose, increased body temperature, appetite and weight loss, swelling of the face, nosebleed, drooling, or lethargy, you should take her to the veterinarian.
Why Sneezing Occurs in Cats
Cats with flat faces such as Persians, Himalayans, Munchkins, and Scottish Folds are more susceptible to all kinds of respiratory issues.
Upper Respiratory Infection
An upper respiratory infection may be caused by any number of viruses such as chlamydia or bordetella, but often turns into a secondary bacterial infection so it is usually treated as such.
Fungal infections are not seen often in cats due to their immune system, but sometimes, a cat can breathe in the spores from a fungus such as cryptococcosis or aspergillosis. These are both quite rare, but the cause is usually from inhaling spores around pigeon droppings.
Cats are able to catch herpes from other cats with the virus and it is common in cats who spend a lot of time outside. The virus is known to go into remission and recur during times of stress. There is no cure and it is not contagious to humans.
Feline calicivirus is a common and extremely contagious virus that spreads between cats through direct contact. It usually only affects the mouth where it causes ulcers, but it is also known to affect the respiratory tract. It can affect both indoor and outdoor cats but is more common in cats that live in multi-cat households.
This is the second leading cause of death in cats, affects about 3% of all cats, and is fatal in 85% of infected felines within the first three years of transmission. Feline leukemia attacks the immune system and can also cause anemia. This virus is passed from other cats through bodily fluids such as saliva, blood, urine, and feces. Cats in multicat households and outdoor cats have a higher risk of contracting feline leukemia.
Although allergies are not uncommon in cats, it usually affects the skin rather than the respiratory system. However, cats that show sensitivities in other ways (dermatitis, vomiting, itching) are more susceptible to respiratory allergic reactions. With the sneezing, your cat will probably also have red eyes, sometimes runny, and agitation.
Nasal polyps are not common in cats but have been seen in cats that previously had upper respiratory infections. It is just a mass of tissue in the upper respiratory tract that usually affects kittens and young cats. If your cat is having trouble breathing, shakes her head, and has difficulty in swallowing, they may have nasal polyps.
What to do if your Cat is Sneezing
If your cat has other signs besides sneezing such as runny nose, red irritated eyes, fever, breathing trouble, loss of appetite, weight loss, and malaise, you need to see your veterinary health provider right away. Upper respiratory infections usually need to be treated with antibiotics due to the probability of a bacterial infection. A fungal infection will be treated with fungal medication, allergies can be treated with antihistamines such as Benadryl (given by your veterinarian), and nasal polyps may be removed if they continue to grow or do not go away on their own. Herpes and leukemia do not have cures, but they can be treated with supportive care until it is gone.
Prevention of Sneezing
To prevent upper respiratory infections, you should keep your cat away from sick cats. In other words, try not to make any trips to the groomer or kennel during the high point of the season (winter). Keep your cat up to date with her immunizations. The vaccinations for cats include feline leukemia virus, herpes (rhinotracheitis), and calicivirus, among others. In addition, some veterinarians recommend adding L-lysine or other supplements to prevent other illnesses and increase immunity. Also, be sure to bring your cat for regular veterinary visits.
Cost of Sneezing
The cost of cat sneezing can range from no cost for just a tickle in the nose to several thousand dollars for an upper respiratory infection. It depends on the cause of the sneezing. If your cat has a feline calicivirus infection, treatment may cost around $350 while medical therapy for a fungal infection could average $1200.
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