Why Cats Sneeze

An occasional sneeze in a cat is normal and no real cause for alarm. Just as in humans, sneezing in cats is an explosive release of air through the nose and mouth – often the body's response to irritants in the nasal passages. Sometimes excitement or movement can bring on sneezing in cats. But if your cat's sneezing won't go away or if other symptoms have cropped up along with sneezing, you may need to check in with your veterinarian to see if treatment is needed.

Causes of Sneezing

If your cat is sneezing a lot, your veterinarian may initially suspect a cause based on a review of your cat's symptoms. In some cases, the vet may take a culture from the mouth, throat, eyes, or nose and send it to a lab to confirm an infection, one of the main causes of sneezing. Inhaled irritants or allergens are two other common causes of sneezing in cats.

Viral, bacterial, or fungal infections. If you've got a sneezing cat, chances are good the cat has an upper respiratory infection. Similar to colds in humans, these infections are more common in young cats, especially in those coming from animal shelters. Many of these infections can be prevented with early vaccinations.

Viral infections that most commonly cause sneezing in cats are:

  • Feline herpesvirus. Cats catch herpes from exposure to other cats who are infected. Stress can also cause a flare-up as well as transmission to other cats. However, treatment usually can help a cat recover.
  • Feline calcivirus. Thisvirus tends to attackthe mouth and deep tissues of the lungs. Although it usually causes mild symptoms; it can cause pneumonia.

These infections may make your cat more likely to develop other respiratory problems that can exacerbate sneezing. For example, a cat with herpes may also develop a secondary bacterial infection. These are often treatable with antibiotics.

A wide range of other infections may also lead to sneezing. They include:

  • Feline infectious peritonitis, which may cause no symptoms, mild symptoms, or more severe symptoms over time
  • Feline Immunodeficiency virus (FIV), which develops slowly but severely impacts a cat's immune system, making them susceptible to other infections
  • Feline leukemia, a serious and often fatal infection
  • Chlamydia, which produces an eye infection (conjunctivitis)
  • Bordetella
  • Mycoplasma

Inhaled irritants or allergens. If your cat only sneezes once in a while, something may simply be irritating the nasal passages. Look for patterns in your cat's sneezing. Does it occur after you've lit the candles at the dinner table? After your cat leaves the litter box? After you've cleaned the house?

These are all examples of potential irritants or allergens (substances that cause allergic reactions) in cats:

  • Cigarette smoke
  • Perfume
  • Pest sprays
  • Cat litter, especially types that create dust
  • Cleaning agents
  • Candles
  • Dust
  • Pollen
  • Mold

In cats, allergies are a less common cause of sneezing than in humans. If sneezing is related to allergies, sometimes itchy skin is also present.

Other potential causes of sneezing. A variety of other factors may contribute to sneezing in cats. For example, it's common for cats to experience sneezing within four to seven days of receiving an intranasal vaccine. This sneezing lasts for no more than several days. Cats may also sneeze to try to dislodge a blockage in their nasal passages. An infection or inflammation of a tooth root may cause drainage into the sinuses; this may also cause sneezing. In very rare cases, sneezing in cats can be a sign of cancer.