It wasn’t until after my fiancé and I adopted two cats from PAWS Chicago that we started hearing the sneezes. Sure, we thought it was cute at first—a tiny kitten making pfft! noises and sniffling melted our hearts. Several days in, we realized the smaller of the two, Foxy, had less energy than the day we brought her home. She cuddled with us but didn’t do much else. Then, we saw the snot. (Cue the scary music.) It was time to call the vet.
Cats sneeze for a whole host of reasons. Here’s how to know when to bring in the meds.
Occasional sneezing is normal
A sneeze here and there is standard. When I clean out the vacuum cleaner filter and dust fills the air, Foxy and I both sneeze. Dust irritates our nasal passages—we can’t help it! Once the dust clears, we’re good to go and the sneezing stops. No cause for alarm.
Constant sneezing is bad
If you hear several sneezes every hour for a few hours or multiple days, chances are it’s more than a dust problem. Your cat likely has an upper respiratory infection and needs to see a vet. While these infections may last only a few days, they can drag on for up to two weeks. Better to knock it out with meds than risk it getting worse. Here’s what it could mean…
1. Viral infection
Cats can develop upper respiratory infections caused by viruses and bacteria. According to VCA Animal Hospitals (where we take Foxy!), a viral infection is typically accompanied by excessive sneezing, nasal discharge, coughing and lethargy. Sometimes discharge comes out of the eyes too (lovely). Feline herpesvirus type 1 and feline calicivirus are the most common to cause these colds in kitties. The FVRCP and FHV vaccines (administered usually around 8 weeks old) help prevent these viruses from making your cat sick.
2. Bacterial infection
Similarly, bacteria like the Bordetella bronchiseptica and Chlamydophila felis can cause respiratory issues in cats. Watch for a runny nose, congestion, wheezing and lethargy. There is a vaccine for Chlamydophila felis, but your cat likely doesn’t need it unless directly exposed to this type of bacteria.
OK, so vaccines are good in that they prevent disease down the road, but they could actually cause sneezing for a few days after the injection. Keep your eyes peeled if your vet has administered the FVRCP or FHV vaccine and you’ve noticed some pffts here and there. If it lasts more than two days, you might want to take her back for a checkup.
4. Dental problems
Cat teeth are already pretty delicate. According to Mike Paul, DVM, at Pet Health Network, if a feline’s tooth becomes infected, the infection can spread, leading to a bacterial infection in the throat and nose. This is why brushing your cat’s teeth is super important! It’s also worth making a dental appointment for your kitty every year to make sure none of her teeth are at risk.
Yes, cats can be allergic to stuff! Pollen in the air and specific food brands are not uncommon allergens for felines. In addition to persistent sneezing, watch for excessive scratching or vomiting. All of these could be signals that your cat’s body is rejecting something in its environment.
6. Spreading germs
Of course, since we adopted two kittens who like to play with each other, it wasn’t long before Jacques started sneezing and oozing snot. We whisked both cats to the vet and were not surprised to learn they both had kitty colds. After a week or so of medicine (Pill Pockets will be your best friend if you have to administer pills; patience will be your best friend if you’re directed to give them liquid medicine), they were good as new. Once they were old enough, they received their vaccines and have been pretty healthy ever since.
Aside from vaccinations, your vet can recommend supplements to prevent seasonal viruses from wreaking havoc on your cat’s immune system. If we hear a few sneezes in a short period of time, we mix in lysine supplements with wet food when we feed Foxy and Jacques. These supplements were given to us by our vet, so check with yours before going out and buying lysine on a whim.