Just like in humans, occasional sneezing can be a normal behavior that allows your cat to clean their nose and expel any irritants inside the nasal passages. Persistent sneezing, however, can be a sign of something more serious. Keep on reading to learn more about the potential causes of sneezing in cats, as well as when you should seek veterinary help.
8 Causes of Cat Sneezing
The cause of your cat’s sneezing can sometimes be difficult to diagnose, because many of these causes may work together and compound on top of each other. Your veterinarian will look at all of your cat’s symptoms before making a diagnosis. While your cat may have one or multiple of these, here are some of the most common causes of sneezing in cats:
1. Viral Respiratory Infections
Respiratory infections are likely the first thing your vet will consider when evaluating your cat’s symptoms. Viral respiratory infections can range in severity, but they’re similar to a cold or influenza in humans.
The most common respiratory virus in cats is Feline Herpesvirus 1 (FHV-1). New research shows that over 90 percent of feral and shelter cats carry the herpes virus. The virus causes sneezing, nasal discharge, coughing, and conjunctivitis, and a cat with FHV-1 is likely to see flare-ups during seasonal changes. Stress can also cause your cat’s symptoms to flare up.
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) is another viral infection that can cause a variety of issues in cats, including sneezing. FIV affects your cat’s immune system, making it much easier for them to develop respiratory infections, among other things.
Other viral infections that can cause sneezing in cats include Feline Calicivirus, as well as pneumonia.
2. Bacterial Infections
Bacterial infections are not typically found alone in cats – they usually only show up after another respiratory virus has already affected your cat. This happens because respiratory viruses can damage your cat’s nasal passages, allowing bacteria to enter and cause an infection.
Bacterial infections that cause sneezing in cats include:
3. Fungal Infections
The most common fungal infection that can cause sneezing is Cryptococcosis, found in infectious spores in bird feces and decaying vegetation. This infection causes upper respiratory signs, as well as polyp-like masses in the nostril and swelling under the skin and over the bridge of the nose.
4. Inflammation, Irritation, and Allergens
Many environmental factors can irritate your cat’s nose. These can be allergens in the air or household items that irritate your cat for short periods.
Irritants and allergens for cats include:
- Cat litter dust
- Cleaning chemicals
If your cat is sneezing more frequently, they may have an inflammatory condition. Rhinitis, inflammation of the mucous membranes in the nose, and sinusitis, inflammation in the lining of the sinuses, are two regularly seen inflammatory conditions in cats. Because these conditions are seen together so frequently, they’re often referred to as “rhinosinusitis.”
5. Foreign Material
Like allergens and airborne irritants, other foreign materials like blades of grass can enter your cat’s nose and cause them to sneeze. While these are often expelled quickly with a few sneezes, the foreign material may get stuck in your cat’s nasal passages, leading to more frequent sneezing.
Speak to your veterinarian if you suspect your cat may be sneezing due to a foreign body. They will be able to perform a rhinoscopy or nasal flush to remove unwanted material from your cat’s nose to stop the irritation.
6. Dental Disease
While it might seem strange, dental disease can actually cause your cat to sneeze, and more than half of all cats are affected by it. The roots of your cat’s upper jaw teeth are right next to their nasal passage, and any infection or inflammation in these teeth can affect the nose.
The condition can include a variety of teeth and gum-related issues, including abscesses, ulcers, broken or rotting teeth, gingivitis, and periodontal disease.
Other signs of dental disease in cats include:
- Head shaking
- Pawing at the mouth
- Unpleasant breath
- Excessive drooling
- Difficulty swallowing
- Lack of appetite
- Weight loss
7. Neoplasia (Nasal Tumors)
While they’re far from the most likely cause of your cat’s sneezing (nasal tumors make up less than 1% of all feline tumors), nasal tumors are always an option, especially in older cats.
Tumors can grow inside your cat’s nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses, causing irritation and inflammation in the nose.
Other symptoms of nasal tumors include:
- Nasal discharge
- Epistaxis, or nasal bleeding
- Abnormal breathing sounds
- Weight loss
- Difficulty chewing
8. Intranasal Vaccines
While most vaccines for your cat are given via injection, there are intranasal vaccines designed to protect against FVRCP (feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, and panleukopenia virus), all upper respiratory infections.
These intranasal vaccines are given through the nose, which can cause some uncomfortable side effects for your cat during the first few days after the vaccination.
Side effects include:
- Mild coughing
- Snotty or runny nose
- Mild fever
- Decreased appetite
When to Take a Sneezing Cat to the Vet
If your cat only sneezes once or twice and has no other symptoms, it’s unlikely you’ll need to take them to the vet. Simply monitor their behavior for a few days to see if any other symptoms show up.
If your cat is sneezing regularly or experiencing any other symptoms, you should take them to the vet. As outlined above, there are many potential causes of sneezing in cats, and some of them can be serious.
Here are a few symptoms to look out for in addition to sneezing:
- Nasal discharge
- Difficulty breathing
- Abnormal breathing sounds or snoring
- Loss of appetite
- Pawing at the face
- Tearing from the eyes
When in Doubt, Check it Out
If your cat is not experiencing any additional symptoms, you can still have them checked by your local vet. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, and catching your cat’s condition early will make treatment easier.
Your vet will be able to help you determine the cause of your cat’s sneezing and recommend the best course of treatment. They may also suggest some at-home remedies to help your cat feel more comfortable until their sneezing subsides.
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