Sneezing in Cats – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment


At a glance   Causes  Should I see a veterinarian?  Diagnosis   Treatment

Cat sneezing
Image Alisha Vargas, Flickr

Sneezing at a glance:

About: Sneezing is the expulsion of air through the nose and mouth.

Causes:

  • Cat flu
  • Nasal polyps
  • Allergies
  • Irritants (smoke, dust)
  • Foreign body
  • Cancer
  • Fungal infection
  • Dental abscess
  • Cleft palate

Diagnosis: Your veterinarian will examine your cat, accompanying symptoms may give a clue as to the cause of symptoms. Diagnostic tests may be necessary.

Treatment: Depends on the cause but may include supportive care for flu, surgery for cancer, polyps, abscess, cleft palate and foreign body and anti-fungal medications.

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.

Causes:

There are many causes of sneezing. Some more serious than others.

Infectious

  • Upper respiratory infection (either caused by a virus or bacteria). This is the most common cause of sneezing in cats. Pathogens include bordetella, chlamydia, mycoplasma, feline herpesvirus 1 and calicivirus.
  • Fungal infection such as cryptococcosis or aspergillosis

Masses

  • Nasal polyps
  • Oral or nasal cancer

Other

  • Allergies such as pollen (hay fever) can cause sneezing but cats are more likely to develop skin disorders as a result of allergies
  • Irritants such as cigarette smoke, chemicals, and dust
  • Foreign object (grass seed etc)
  • Dental abscess
  • Cleft palate a congenital abnormality or traumatic injury in which there is a split or a hole in roof of the mouth

Should I see a veterinarian?

If sneezing is the only symptom your cat is experiencing and he seems otherwise well, then a wait and see approach may be taken. See a veterinarian if your cat has the following symptoms:

  • Runny nose or eyes
  • Nosebleed
  • Drooling
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Oral or facial swelling
  • Lethargy
  • Sneezing which doesn’t resolve within a few days

Diagnosis:

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.

Diagnostic tests:

  • Complete blood count, biochemical profile, and urinalysis are all standard tests to evaluate the health of your cat, look for signs of infection and inflammation.
  • Cytology (microscopic examination) of nasal, oral or eye secretions.
  • Bacterial culture of nasal, oral or eye 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.

Treatment:

Treatment is aimed at addressing the underlying cause of sneezing and may include:

Dental abscess:

Removal of a tooth in the case of a dental abscess. Your cat will be sent home with a course of antibiotics.

Fungal infection:

Antifungal drugs and supportive care.

Bacterial infections:

Oral antibiotics.

Cancer:

Surger, where possible, as well as chemotherapy and or radiotherapy. If cancer is in the nose it is not always possible to surgically remove the tumour, in which case your veterinarian may recommend chemotherapy which isn’t curative but can shrink the tumour and give you more time with your cat.

Cat flu:

In most cases, supportive care is all that can be provided while your cat fights the infection. This may include fluid treatment for dehydration, nutritional support, 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.

Foreign object:

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.

Nasal polyps:

Surgery to remove nasal polyps, it is important that the entire polyp is removed or it can regrow.

Allergies:

Avoidance or removal of the allergen where possible. Your veterinarian may recommend antihistamines to relieve symptoms. Never administer these medications without veterinary approval.

Cleft palate:

Surgical repair.

Additional care:

  • 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.