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Cat Sneezing Fits Are Funny...Until They’re Not

It could be nothing to sniff at, according to expert Dr. Iovino.

by Charlotte Brackett | expert review by Dr. John Iovino, DVM
September 8, 2021
Siamese cat in the middle of sneeze
Laura Stolfi / Stocksy

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Cat sneezes, like those of humans, can be amusing. Though they’re not as showboat-y as the ones your dad occasionally booms out, a kitty sneeze will always get a chuckle and a “bless you” from me. But when it happens multiple times, especially in rapid succession, red flags start flying. One or two sneezes every now and then is just a cat’s body’s way of clearing the nose, but if it’s happening more and more often, something else might be the issue.

So, why does my cat keep sneezing? Well, cat sneezing is difficult to diagnose. For one, as with all pet ailments, you can’t ask them what’s wrong. (Well, you can, but in my experience, they don’t answer.) But there are also other little noises that escape from their mouths (coughing, wheezing, retching, gagging) that can all be misidentified as a sneeze — and they can be symptoms of something else entirely. While it’s always advisable to go to your primary veterinarian to find out what may be going on with Winston Purrchill, here are some tips to point you in the right direction, courtesy of Dr. John Iovino.

1. There can be a few reasons why your cat keeps sneezing.

To better understand why your cat is sneezing a lot, you need to know what exactly a sneeze is. “A sneeze is a reflex action in the body controlled by nerves and muscles,” says Dr. Iovino. “Anything abnormal or foreign in the nose or back of the throat can elicit that sneeze.” Ok, now you know.

“The most common reasons why a cat would sneeze would be allergies or a virus, such as Feline Herpes Virus 1 (FHV-1),” Dr. Iovino says, “while dental disease can also set your cat off.” Don’t worry, though — Feline Herpes Virus isn’t transmissible to humans. “Sometimes, respiratory infections can affect the mouth, like Feline Calicivirus, so we may see drooling caused by painful, irritated gums,” he adds. “Sneezing may also come with some congestion and if a cat can’t smell well, then we tend to see them not eat well, either. If the nose is irritated enough to lead to a decrease in appetite, then that’s also a sign to be seen.”

2. Getting to the root of the issue isn’t always easy.

“Determining a cause at home can be tricky without proper medical training,” Dr. Iovino says. “We can suspect certain issues based on their history or certain physical exams, but sneezing isn’t exact for a certain issue.” Diagnostic testing or medication trials may be your fastest route to an answer.

Although finding a definite cause can be difficult, it’s important that pet parents really watch their cat’s abnormal signs at home — that info can be helpful for the vet to establish a cause more quickly. For example: “Noting issues with eating, using the litter box, or any eye discharge,” Dr. Iovino says. “FHV-1 infection leads to sneezing, but it can also lead to eye problems at the same time. Therefore, noting any discharges present from the nose or in one or both eyes can be very helpful.”

3. There are more than a few sneeze treatments, too.

You will not be hurting for remedies. “Allergies can be helped with antihistamines and sometimes a steroid,” Dr. Iovino says. “Medications like antivirals or antibiotics can also be helpful if there are any infections that lead to a sneeze and if the condition progresses more severely.” In the case of dental disease, you may need to spring for a more involved treatment. “A dental cleaning, x-rays, and any periodontal work can rectify a potential chronic sneezing issue,” Dr. Iovino adds. “Something like a nasal foreign body may require a scope or other equipment to remove it from the nose or back of the throat.”

4. Know when it’s time to go to the vet. 

Again, this isn’t always straightforward but, as a pet parent, it’s good to check in with yourself on this one. “There are going to be differing levels of sneezing and some cats have more symptoms as well,” says Dr. Iovino. “I think pet parents know their cats best, and if sneezing is noticed more frequently and there is a change that seems odd, then it would be a good idea to be more observant at home.” Basically, it comes down to this: if your cat is sneezing more and more each day, then getting an exam done is worth it. Discharges in the eyes or nose? Gagging or coughing? Also good reasons to go to the vet. 

6. There are other options if a vet visit doesn’t work.

You’ve taken your cat to the vet. You’ve gone through the tests. Certain issues have been assessed and ruled out. The cause of the problem is still unknown. Now what? “Although it’s frustrating to go through medications and testing with no answer, there are other things we can do,” says Dr. Iovino. One of the most important next steps is to have good communication with your vet so they can accurately diagnose a potentially rarer issue. “A nose swab may be needed to rule out nasal mites. Sometimes x-rays of the chest, throat, and skull can be very beneficial in helping understand what’s happening physically.” Whatever’s needed — you’ll be there to pet them through it.

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charlotte brackett

Charlotte Brackett

Charlotte Brackett is a writer and content manager for the Pet Insight Project, which gathers data about dog behavior that may improve the lives of pets. She enjoys interviewing veterinarians and writing articles that help make dog ownership as easy and fun as possible. Charlotte earned a degree in journalism and English from the University of Richmond.