There's not much that's more pitiful than a cat sneezing over and over again. They are miserable, and they look it. Many times their little noses are full of nasty colored mucous, and their eyes are watery or sometimes even nearly glued shut from the discharge.
Most often the cause of all of this is a virus. The viruses that cause upper respiratory infections, or cat sneezing, are also the viruses that we commonly vaccinate against. Feline herpesvirus, feline coronavirus, and feline rhinotracheitis virus are the most common culprits.
By keeping your cats vaccinations up to date, you are helping them to fight these viruses if they are exposed to them.
Anywhere there are large numbers of cats together, viral causes of cat sneezing are a problem. Places like animal shelters, breeders facilities, and boarding facilities are all likely to have one or more of these viruses hanging about in their environment.
If your cat has problems with repeated upper respiratory problems or repeated eye problems related to feline herpesvirus infection, a lysine supplement
may help. The supplements found in our
provide a variety of textures and tastes, for our finicky feline friends. Go to Cat, then Nutritional Supplements, then Vitamins/Minerals.
Because the sneezing and illness is caused by a virus, there is little that will get rid of it. But, there are things to be done to help your cat while they are fighting the virus.
If your cat has a bad upper respiratory infection - their appetite is down or gone, there is a lot of both nasal and eye discharge and it is colored, their energy is down - then you should visit your vet. Actions that can be taken to help these cats include:
* Subcutaneous (abbreviated SQ) fluid administration can help these cats maintain adequate hydration. Your vet can do this, and you can be taught how to give them too - see the video demonstration below, put together by Cornell University.
* Antibiotics can help with these severe cases. The antibiotics won't kill a virus, but they will attack the bacteria that are also causing an infection in the nose and eyes. This is called a secondary infection; it means that the bacteria took advantage of a weakened host, who was already fighting a viral infection.
* Steam therapy can help to loosen all of that mucous, so that the cat can sneeze it out. The easiest way to accomplish this is to take the cat with you into the bathroom (not the shower!) while you take a nice long hot shower.
* Heating their canned, tasty food can help get a sneezing cat eating again. A cats appetite is very much influenced by the odor of that food. If their nose is plugged up, they can't smell anything and their appetite takes a nose dive (no pun intended!). Getting their nose cleaned out and then making their food as stinky as possible will give you the best chance of jump starting an appetite in a cat who is sneezing.
* Eye ointment, also antibiotic, can provide a direct attack for a secondary bacterial eye infection, again if the eye discharge is a large amount and/or it is colored.
Occasionally, a very severe case of cat sneezing from viral causes will need hospitalization. In the hospital the health care team can make sure that all of the cats needs are met, regardless of whether the cat wants to help or not! Intravenous (abbreviated IV, meaning in the vein) fluids, forced feeding or sometimes a tube placed surgically to allow feeding, heat support, antibiotics via injection, and supplemental oxygen if needed can all be done by your veterinary team, and is much more than can be accomplished at home.
There are also other, less common, causes of cat sneezing. Anything that tickles the inside of the nose will likely result in a sneeze. Things like nasal polyps or nasal tumors can cause sneezing, sometimes with blood in it. Nasal mites will cause sneezing, and are much more treatable than the above. Some cats have allergies that result in frequent sneezing. Every now and then I come across a cat with a piece of grass stuck in its nose.... in veterinary parlance this is called a nasal foreign body. These cats sneeze quite dramatically, and frequently. Cats are very talented, I think.....
In any case, any of these less common causes of cat sneezing will need to be diagnosed by your veterinarian, and the treatment will be different for each. Diagnosis may require sedation to get a good nasal exam, and possibly x-rays.
The symptom of cat sneezing can be caused by many things. Most commonly it is simply due to a viral upper respiratory infection, but other more serious causes are possible. Check with your vet if you are concerned for your cat!
Page last updated 6/17/15.