Elsie is an experienced pet sitter and knows what to do if a cat starts sneezing.
Cats sneeze for all kinds of reasons, just like humans do. The vast majority of the time, there is nothing to worry about. The purpose of this article is to cover the most common causes of cat sneezing, as well as less common causes and when a trip to the veterinarian is in order.
Please note that I am not a veterinarian; my expertise comes from decades of cat ownership and volunteering in a no-kill cat shelter. It is always best to seek medical help with your veterinarian should your cat's symptoms persist.
Why Is My Cat Sneezing?
As I mentioned, cats sneeze for a variety of reasons. More often than not, the sneezing is temporary and will simply go away on its own. The more common reasons are:
- An upper respiratory infection
- An allergy to something in his or her environment; called allergic rhinitis.
- Tooth problems
Less common reasons include:
- A foreign body stuck in the nose, which is rare because cats have very tiny nostrils.
- Something called "reverse sneezing" when the muscles of the larynx spasm. This is caused by mucus collecting at the back of the throat. It sounds frightening, has a snorting sound. But, it's innocuous . . .
- More serious infections like Feline Leukemia or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus.
Rare, but serious causes include:
- Oral cancer
- Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)
- Nasopharyngeal polyps
Clues About the Cause
If your cat is lethargic, his or her appetite is affected, has a fever and nasal and/or eye discharge, mouth sores, or drooling, chances are your kitty has an upper respiratory infection (URI). You may see your cat pawing at his face, literally rubbing the nose.
If your cat is pawing at the nose or face, but there are no other signs of a URI, he may be reacting to an allergen or may have a foreign object in the nose. These cats may also be shaking their heads and appearing mildly distressed. If you also notice she seems itchy, is scratching or biting herself, or if the sneezing seems to appear at predictable times of the year, allergies are a likely candidate.
If the sneezing occurs over the course of a few hours and is intermittent, chances are it's just some sort of nasal irritation, caused by an allergen or something irritating in the air, like a cleaning solution.
When to Worry . . .
You know your cat better than anyone else, so trusting your instincts is important. If you are concerned, it's always best to check with your cat's veterinarian. That said, here's a guide to help you in assessing whether or not your cat's sneezing requires some sort of medical intervention.
- Persistent sneezing that produces a bloody discharge. You always need to investigate the cause of bloody discharge; a fungal infection, bacterial infection or tumor could be the culprit.
- Persistent sneezing that accompanies bad breath, eating problems, drooling, lethargy, fever, or a swollen face. You may notice your kitty pawing at his or her nose and mouth as well. Dental problems or a tooth abscess may need to be addressed. A more serious cause of the above symptoms is oral cancer. Sadly, I recently lost my cat to this devastating cancer. We were all convinced (my veterinarian included) that it was a tooth abscess.
- Sneezing accompanied by loss of appetite. When your cat has stopped eating, you need to investigate the root cause.
Read More From Pethelpful
Ways to Help Your Sneezy Cat
The last cat I adopted from a no-kill cat shelter started sneezing when she got to our home. Of course, I was concerned about an illness since she'd been exposed to many feline respiratory infections, so I watched her like a hawk. She showed no signs of an infection, though. She felt fine, her appetite was fine, she was energetic and overall seemingly healthy. It dawned on me that we weren't using the same cat litter she'd been using at the shelter. She'd been using pine pellets and I was using clumping clay litter. The sneezing vanished when I switched litters.
Sometimes, cats will suddenly become sensitive to a litter you've been using for a long time. Occasionally it's because of subtle changes that have been made to the formula, but sometimes it's only because they develop a sensitivity. So, my first recommendation is to change cat litter brands and see what happens. It may take some experimentation to see which one doesn't irritate her. Stay away from the dusty litters. Try a corn-based litter, these have no dust and are excellent clumping litters.
Take a look at the following possible sources for your cat's nasal irritation:
- Cat litter (as mentioned above)
- New cleaning agents you're using
- A smoker in the environment
- Air fresheners, including candles
- Any construction in your home can pump out a lot of dust
- Improperly venting fireplace—smoke can be very irritating for cats.
Tips for Reducing Allergens in Your Home
- It may be time to get your air ducts cleaned. It's appalling how much dirt and dust can be recirculating through your house. It's not good for you, either! Check how well your fireplace is venting, too. It may be time for chimney maintenance.
- Consider getting a HEPA vacuum. Having a vacuum with a HEPA filter can greatly reduce the number of allergens being pumped out each time you vacuum. A cyclone-type vacuum is another great choice as they literally spin the dirt out of the air.
- Be very careful when you're dusting, you can unwittingly deposit an enormous amount of dust into your air unless you take certain precautions. Use a damp cloth or one that's treated to attract dust for the job instead of feather dusters or dry cloths.
- Use green cleaning products. They aren't filled with artificial fragrances and chemicals that can irritate your cat.
- Consider running a humidifier for your kitty. Bring him or her into your bedroom and run it for a while. Or bring the cat into the bathroom with you when you shower. The hot steam can help open up the nasal passages.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2011 Elsie Nelson
Audrey Baker from Arizona on December 12, 2012:
Thank you for covering this. My cat's vet always asks if he's been sneezing when I take him for checkups. I wasn't sure what the concern was. Sneezes seemed rather harmless to me, but as you pointed out, it may be a symptom of a much more serious problem.
beautiful! on April 25, 2012:
TigerLillyRose on April 11, 2012:
Really a good article! Also mold will make them sneeze. Something us Oregonians are well aware of, since it's pretty wet here most of the time. Clay litter doesn't work for my cats, it makes all of us sneeze, and one of the cats decides to occasionally eat it.
I've had great luck with cheap alfalfa pellets. Not the cat litter kind, the kind that is used for animal food. I can get a 50 lb bag for about what a good clumping clay litter costs for 5 lbs. You can also get the smaller bags, I just happen to have a lot of cats. It's totally biodegradable too.
Elsie Nelson (author) from Pacific Northwest, USA on December 26, 2011:
adrienne, thanks for reading and passing along the information to your cousin. Hopefully she can find the cause and/or a remedy from my hub.
Fierce Manson from Atlanta on December 26, 2011:
My cuz has a few cats and I have not been to her house. Every time I talk to her on the phone you can hear her kitties, and/or cats sneezing. She calls them her babies. She loves her cats, I found your article interest. I will pass the info along whenever I speak or see her again. I love my dogs, voted interesting. Thanks for sharing.
Elsie Nelson (author) from Pacific Northwest, USA on December 19, 2011:
I can't tell you how much I agree with point one above, Simone. Adorable, especially if you know the sneeze isn't caused by an illness. Thanks for coming by, good to see you as always.
Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on December 19, 2011:
1. Cat sneezes make the cutest sound ever.
2. I had no idea there were so many potential causes... though of course that makes perfect sense ^_^
I'm so glad you brought up that note about cat litter, and how cats might develop allergies to various household agents and cleaning products. This is all really good to know!
Beth Pipe from Cumbria, UK on December 18, 2011:
Really useful information. Monty has allergy type sneezing fits during the spring and summer, they soon pass and the vet said it's a feline hayfever. Poor old Monty looks really surprised every time he sneezes though! Great hub!
Elsie Nelson (author) from Pacific Northwest, USA on December 17, 2011:
EZ Fitness, thanks for reading.
Thanks for coming by. Flora. Poor girl, about the teeth removal. Sorry she's had some health problems...
FloraBreenRobison on December 17, 2011:
cats who had colds before will always be prone to them. My cat seems to have one all the time -she certainly has all the signs of URI. She's had other problems as well, not related to sneezing. We had to have her teeth removed.
EZFITNESS from Dallas,Texas on December 17, 2011:
glade to hear you has a handle on things ! !
Elsie Nelson (author) from Pacific Northwest, USA on December 17, 2011:
Thanks, K9! Sneezing CAN be a problem in cats, but not always. I learned my lesson the hard way, my cat had been displaying signs of oral cancer for a while and I just didn't catch it. Fortunately, the more ominous sneezing causes are much more rare. Anyway, thanks for the comment and visit. Good to see you as always!
India Arnold from Northern, California on December 17, 2011:
This is an outstanding hub on why, and how to address your sneezing cat. This is fascinating to me. I once had a veterinarian cat specialist tell me that sneezing in cats was something that required attention. Everyone else told me this was just a myth. Now that I have read your information, I can see how that specialist was spot-on! Thank you for writing this guide! I am bookmarking it for future reference. So much good stuff here!