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6 Reasons Why Cats Sneeze
Sneezing is how the human body forcefully expels irritants from the nose. But it’s not just people that sneeze. Animals such as elephants, chickens, lizards (that has to be a funny sight), dogs and cats also sneeze.
The thing to understand about cat sneezes is that, sometimes they are a result of the normal process of clearing the nose. However, sometimes cat sneezes point to an underlying health issue that needs to be addressed.
Keep reading to learn the different reasons why cats sneeze and when it may indicate it’s time to bring your fur baby in to see the vet.
What Causes Cat Sneezing?
Your cat’s sneezing may be caused by a number of things:
Viral Respiratory Infections
As in humans, one of the main causes of sneezing in cats is a viral upper respiratory infection. The most prevalent infection in cats is the feline herpesvirus. It is believed that as many as 80% to 90% of cats are infected with the herpesvirus. This virus can remain dormant for months or even years, and then suddenly become active, causing your cat to sneeze and feel unwell for a few days.
Along with sneezing, your cat may also have discharge from the eyes or nose. Should you see any yellow or green-colored discharge, you’ll want to bring your cat in to the vet as soon as possible. A fairly benign viral upper respiratory infection can develop into bacterial pneumonia fast. This is because the initial viral infection damages the nasal passageways, creating the perfect breeding ground for bacteria to thrive. Bordetella, mycoplasma, and chlamydia are the most common bacterial infections in a cat’s nose.
Inflammation and Irritation
While the above mentioned infections can certainly cause inflammation and irritation to your cat’s nasal passages, other things can cause inflammation and irritation as well. For instance, just like people, many cats have allergies to things in their environment, and this causes their nasal passages to become inflamed, which causes them to sneeze.
A Foreign Object
It’s not uncommon for cats to inhale something through their nose that can cause them to sneeze. A blade of grass, a bit of food, or a small piece of kitty litter can all wind up in their nose and cause them to sneeze.
Unfortunately, while sneezing can help your cat expel smaller debris like dust particles, larger objects are harder to get out by sneezing alone. In these instances, your vet may have to insert a tiny camera into your cat’s nose to see what foreign object may have gotten in there and perform a saline nasal flush to get it out. Your cat would be under anesthesia for this procedure.
It may surprise you to learn that dental disease is a common cause for cat sneezing. The roots of your cat’s teeth on their upper jaw are located right next to their nasal passages. If they develop and infected tooth, the area around it becomes inflamed and their nasal passages can become irritated.
Dental disease, whether it is the gums or teeth that are infected, can be very painful for your cat. If you suspect your cat may have dental issues (hello bad breath!), it is important that you get them in to the vet as soon as possible.
In older cats especially, tumors sometimes begin to grow inside the nasal passage, creating irritation and inflammation. These tumors are usually detected through rhinoscopy (inserting that tiny camera I mentioned earlier) or via nasal biopsy.
While it is far more common for cats to develop a viral or bacterial infection in their nose, fungal infections have been known to develop and cause sneezing in cats. A fungus called Cryptococcus is the usual culprit.
The good news is, there are effective treatments for clearing fungal infections. However, since it is nearly impossible to tell a fungal infection from a bacterial infection from a physical exam alone, a rhinoscopy or biopsy will need to be performed to get an accurate diagnosis.
While there can be other causes of cat sneezing, such as polyps or an abnormal nasal formation, the causes listed above are the most common.
How Serious is Cat Sneezing?
That really depends on whether the cause of the sneezing is something environmental or an underlying disease.
Should your cat’s sneezing be caused by an environmental irritant, such as mold, pollen or dust, the sneezing is not usually serious and will resolve itself in time.
Generally, cat sneezing is caused by disease. The most common causes are viral infections (flu) and dental disease. While these diseases in and of themselves are not dangerous, if left untreated they can turn into something more serious.
If your cat continues to sneeze and it lasts for several days, then it’s a sign they may have something really going on. Some other symptoms to watch for in addition to sneezing:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Nasal discharge
- Worsening of symptoms
- Persistence of symptoms beyond a few days
If you see any of these along with sneezing, definitely get them in to your vet right away.
While a cat sneezing may appear cute or adorable, it could be a symptoms that something more serious is going on. Should your cat have one or two episodes of sneezing, there isn’t much to worry about. But should they sneeze often for a series of days, and should there be any other symptoms involved, it’s time to get them checked out.
Pet Health Insurance is Nothing to Sneeze At
We do our best to ensure our cats stay healthy and active. But even with the best efforts and intentions, sometimes illness and injury can occur. And sometimes treating the illness or injury can cost an arm and a leg.
When you’re concerned about your fur baby’s health, the last thing you need is to worry about paying for their care. That’s why we started Pet Insurance Review.
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- Claussen, K. DVM., “Cat Herpes: FVR and FHV-1 Symptoms and Treatments.” (2021) Retrieved from: https://pets.webmd.com/cats/feline-herpes-symptoms-treatment
- Hunter, T., DVM, Ward, E., DVM. “Allergies in Cats.” Retrieved from: https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/allergies-in-cats
- “Feline Dental Disease.” Retrieved from: Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feline-dental-disease
- “Nasosinal Cancer in Cats.” Retrieved from: http://www.petcancercenter.org/Cancer_Types_nasal_cavity_cats.html
- Diener, M., DVM. “Cryptococcosis in Cats.” Retrieved from: https://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/infectious-parasitic/c_ct_cryptococcosis
The information contained on this blog is intended for informational and educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. It is not a substitute for professional veterinary care. Always consult with your veterinarian before making any changes to your pet's health care or treatment plan.
The authors of this blog are not veterinarians and do not claim to be experts in pet health. The information provided here is based on our own experiences and research, as well as information from reputable sources. However, we cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of this information.
We encourage you to do your own research and consult with your veterinarian before making any decisions about your pet's health.