Why Cats Sneeze

All cats sneeze, sooner or later. The reasons are numerous and vary in seriousness from no worry to potentially life-threatening. Sneezing is a symptom, not a disease or condition in itself, and is a sign of some problem in the cat's system. Often, the underlying cause is difficult to ascertain.

These are the most common reasons cats sneeze:

Infectious causes usually result in an Upper Respiratory Infection, or URI.

URI is not a specific disease, but a category of infection, either viral or bacterial, of the upper respiratory tract, which includes the nasal passages and the upper passages leading into the lungs, such as the trachea and the bronchi. One of the most common URIs is rhinotracheitis, for which a vaccination is available. Rhino can be very serious, and if not treated and cleared up quickly, can cause permanent damage to the nasal passages. Since cats depend on their sense of smell to identify food, a loss of their ability to smell could result in their not eating. It doesn't take long for a cat to die if they don't eat. Contrary to what some may think, a cat will not eat "if he gets hungry enough." We lost a big tom cat because he could not smell anything after having his sinuses crushed from a head trauma. He just would not eat, or allow us to force feed.

Respiratory infections are very common in cats and can also be fatal for those whose systems are weak. Kittens have undeveloped immune systems, and elderly cats may have decreased immunity from a lifetime of assaults on their systems. Basically, like humans, though, they just "wear out."

For most cats, however, it is very treatable with antibiotics, such as the various products within the penicillin group. Your vet will be able to determine which is likely to work best for your cat.

If it does not clear up within a few weeks, there could be more, or something else, going on. Rhinotracheitis is difficult to cure and prolonged episodes of the infection can result in permanent damage to the nasal passages.

Non-infectious causes include allergies, dental problems, household products being used or left around, foreign objects in the nose, and polyps or other growths. Also, some breeds have characteristics that can predispose a cat to sneezing. Persians, for example, are especially vulnerable to nasal difficulties because their sinuses are more compressed.

Allergies need to be addressed by your vet, as do dental problems. Abscesses of the teeth can result in the infection traveling into the sinus cavities, and sneezing may be a sign that has happened.

Household products can include cleaning supplies the cat may be sensitive to, and some cat litters can send up clouds of irritating dust particles. Other irritants in the home often include second hand smoke, spray cleaners or air deodorizers, perfumes and colognes, hair spray, and even the deodorant you use.

Things you can do to help your cat include the following:

  • Try removing, substituting, or at least minimizing your use of irritating household or personal products.
  • Use a vaporizer to moisturize the air the cat breathes and soothe the air passages.
  • Wipe the cat's eyes and nose to remove any accumulations of mucus, using a warm, moist cloth.
  • Use an antibiotic eye ointment not only in the eyes, but try to put a little into the nose, too.
  • Rest and good nutrition are still considered by most vets to be the best course of treatment.
  • Nutritional support may help, using these products:

    Echinacea - Do not use for more than 10 days in a row.

    • Cats less than 6 pounds - 1/40 of recommended human dose
    • Cats between 6 and 12 pounds - 1/16 of recommended human dose
    • Cats over 12 pounds - 1/8 of recommended human dose

    Goldenseal -

    • Cats less than 6 pounds - 1/20 of recommended human dose
    • Cats between 6 and 12 pounds - 1/10 of recommended human dose
    • Cats over 12 pounds - 1/5 of recommended human dose

    Vitamin C - Try to purchase as calcium ascorbate or sodium ascorbate rather than the acidic form, which can upset your cat’s stomach.

    • Cats less than 6 pounds - 100 mg daily
    • Cats between 6 and 12 pounds - 250 mg daily
    • Cats over 12 pounds - 500mg daily

    Vitamin A - This can be toxic. Do not use for more than two weeks.

    • Cats less than 6 pounds – 1,000 IU daily
    • Cats between 6 and 12 pounds - 3,000 IU daily
    • Cats over 12 pounds - 6,000 IU daily

    Sulfur - Available at health food stores as methylsulfonyl methane (or MSM)

    • Cats less than 6 pounds – 50mg daily
    • Cats between 6 and 12 pounds – 150mg daily
    • Cats over 12 pounds - 250mg daily

    Copyright © 2006 - 2007 - RJ Peters 
    Dr. R.J. Peters, a retired physician, established an animal rescue shelter in 2002. She has worked with hundreds of dogs and cats and shares much of what she's learned, at The Problem Cat.