Medically known as sternutation, sneezing is the result of an involuntary expulsion of air through the mouth and nose that is caused by an irritation of the mucous membranes of the nose. The occasional bout of sneezing is generally nothing to worry about, all cats will sneeze from time to time. If the sneezing is persistent and/or is accompanied by other symptoms, veterinary attention is necessary to find the underlying cause.
What are the causes of sneezing in cats?
There are many causes of sneezing. Some more serious than others.
How does your veterinarian diagnose the cause?
Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination of your cat and obtain a medical history. He will ask if the sneezing is acute (sudden onset) or chronic (long and persistent) if it occurs at a particular time (ie; seasonal), if there are other signs accompanying the sneezing, such as discharge (if any). All of this can narrow down the possible cause for your veterinarian.
There are different types of nasal discharge: serous (clear), mucoid, purulent, bloody. The type of discharge can help your veterinarian narrow down a cause.
If the sneezing is accompanied by a mucoid nasal or ocular discharge, fever, loss of appetite, eye discharge, sores in the mouth an upper respiratory infection is the likely cause.
If the cat is shaking her head and or pawing at the nose, a foreign object may be lodged in the nostril.
Nasopharyngeal polyps are quite rare in cats.
If the cat also appears to suffer from itching, face/paw rubbing allergies may be the cause.
If the sneezing occurs at a particular time of year it may be the result of a seasonal allergy, ie; pollen.
If the sneezing on and off for a few hours, this may be nasal irritation or allergy (smoke, perfume etc). In this case, your veterinarian may suggest removing your cat from his environment for a few days to see if the sneezing stops.
Sneezing accompanied by blood may be a sign of nasal cancer or fungal infection.
Tests your veterinarian may wish to perform include:
- Cytology (microscopic examination) of nasal secretions.
- Bacterial culture of nasal secretions.
- Biopsy of the nasal tissue.
- Rhinoscopy (examination of the nasal passages) with a small flexible tube known as an endoscope. This usually requires anesthesia.
- X-ray or CT scan can detect a dental abscess or cancer. This requires general anaesthesia.
- Platelet count in the case of blood coming from the nostrils.
- Fungal serology.
How is sneezing in cats treated?
Treatment is aimed at addressing the underlying cause of sneezing and may include:
Dental treatment and possible removal of a tooth in the case of a dental abscess.
Antifungal drugs for fungal infections.
Antibiotics for bacterial infections. These may be primary or secondary.
Surgery (where possible), chemotherapy and or radiotherapy for cancer.
Vaccination is the best way to prevent viral infections in cats, but if your cat already has caught 'cat flu' (feline herpesvirus or calicivirus), in most cases supportive care is all that can be provided. This may involve fluid treatment for dehydration, force feeding if the cat has become anorexic, removal of discharge from nose to assist breathing and eyes. L-Lysine may be recommended if the cause is Feline Herpesvirus and/or antivirals. Antibiotics have no effect on viruses, but may be prescribed to treat secondary bacterial infections.
Removal of the foreign body if that is the cause. Most foreign bodies in the nose are caused by blades of grass or grass seeds.
If possible, removal of the cause of the allergy.
Surgery to remove nasal polyps.
If your cat also has nasal discharge, putting him in a steamy bathroom can help to clear the airways. In some cases, your veterinarian may recommend the use of saline nasal sprays or decongestants to help relieve a blocked nose. Never administer human medications to your cat to treat sneezing without veterinary supervision.
Appetite stimulants may be administered to a cat who is not eating.