Sneezing in Cats


Sneezing in Cats

Question: Good Morning - I am a subscriber and enjoy the newsletter you send.

I have a 12 year old cat who has had diabetes for 2 years and is doing fine with 7 units of insulin twice a day.

After Christmas this past year, he developed a herpes virus that affected his right eye which is being treated and seems to be almost completely recovered. His left eye has been mattering so I have been treating it as well with a prescription eye drop from out vet. In the past month this poor cat has been having sneezing fits. He doesn't just sneeze once or twice but I have counted up to 10 quick sneezes at a time. Of course, I took him to our vet but he didn't sneeze the time we were in the clinic and he just thinks it's part of the herpes virus. I can tell he can't catch his breath and of course, am worried about him. After the sneezing fits, he usually uses his paw to sort of scratch his nose and eyes and then settles back down. Last night I could tell he was having trouble catching his breath and then he seemed to have just a moment of not breathing through his nose - his mouth was open. I have tried to see if there is a pattern to when he sneezes and there really isn't. I thought it could be allergies but he is an indoor cat and I haven't let him out in weeks on his leash. If you have any insight please let me know. I do have a call into my vet this morning as well.

Answer: Linda-

Sneezing like this can occur due to the herpes virus but it may be an indication of a secondary infection of the nasal passages due to the virus. In this case it is appropriate to use antibiotics. We have had the best luck with azithromycin (Zithromax Rx) but other antibiotics can be useful.

Sneezing also occurs with other conditions. Dental disease, especially infections around the roots of teeth, can lead to sneezing.

Cats get nasal polyps more frequently than dogs do and these can cause sneezing or ear infections so it is worth looking for them when a cause of sneezing is hard to find. Unfortunately, anesthesia is usually required to get a good look into the nasal passages and rear of the oral cavity.

Sneezing seems to occur due to allergies in some cats but this is not as frequent a problem as sneezing is in people with allergies. Allergies can definitely occur in indoor cats, though. They are just allergic to stuff inside the house, like dust mites and people dander. Sneezing can occur with fungal infections of the nasal passages and sometimes occurs when there is cancer affecting the nasal passages, as well. X-rays are sometimes useful in identifying tumors but an endoscopic examination or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are often better for identifying these sorts of problems. Unfortunately, these diagnostic techniques may not be available in your area and do cost much more than X-rays.

We sometimes see sneezing in cats with asthma. Some of the symptoms, such as the difficulty catching his breath, are suggestive of asthma. This is something else to think about. If attacks of difficulty breathing have continued, it would be best to let your vet know this. We have also seen a couple of cats with cardiomyopathy (weakness of the heart muscles) who came to our office due to persistent sneezing. I can't really figure out the link between the heart problem and sneezing but it was all we could find in these cats. This could also cause difficulty breathing at times and also a decrease in activity in general in many cats.

Hopefully your vet was able to help, but if not, these are some other things to think about, especially if there are other signs of any of these problems.

Mike Richards, DVM 6/23/2001


Question: Dear Dr Mike: My 1 year old Persian has started to sneeze frequently. He has no discharge from his nose and his eyes are clear. Could it be cat flu? Is it normal for cats to sneeze as my other five rarely sneeze.

Answer: Suzanne- Sneezing occurs due to feline herpes virus (which can be a recurrent illness in cats), feline leukemia virus, from dental problems, from allergies (not as frequently as in people), from exposure to environmental insults like second-hand smoke, fungal or bacterial infection of the nasal passages and cancers. In a young cat, the most likely causes are the viruses, followed by environmental irritants and allergies. Usually, when sneezing is due to herpes virus it lasts about 3 weeks, stops, then recurs at irregular intervals. The other causes tend to be more chronic. It is frustrating to try to sort through the causes of sneezing in cats, because there isn't a good way to rule in or rule out herpes virus as the cause, even though it is the most common cause, probably. So sometimes we do a lot of work to eliminate everything else and then have to fall back on the diagnosis of chronic herpes virus. Mike Richards, DVM 12/28/2000


Q: Hello: I recently bought a red tabby five month old persian from a reliable breeder at a cat show. He seems to be in excellent health but sneezes quite often. Is this a characteristic of the breed because of their small pushed in noses or could he be allergic to his new envioroment, i.e., my other cat or dog? Thank you in advance

A: I was recently at a continuing education session. At this session, the speaker (Dr. Nassise) suggested that the most common cause of persistent sneezing in cats was probably rhinotracheitis virus. This is a herpes virus and it can cause chronic infection, or it can be latent for long periods and then recur in times of stress. I do think that some Persians and Himalayans seem to sneeze without ever showing any other clinical signs of disease at all and I have assumed that this might be some sort of problem from the shape of their face.

Once in a while we see persistent sneezing because there is a foreign body in the nasal passages. We have found a piece of thread, a piece of ribbon and several blades of grass on exams over the years. Also, periodontal disease is reported to make some cats sneeze but this seems pretty unlikely in a 5 month old cat.

Rhinotracheitis is very easy for cats to pick up prior to being successfully vaccinated against it. It is probably not possible to protect all cats, even with vigorous effort.

Allergies probably do cause some of the sneezing seen in cats. Five months is also pretty young for allergies to show up but I can't say with certainty that they aren't present.

Your vet can examine your new kitten and rule out some of these causes.

Mike Richards, DVM

Frequent Sneezing

Q: Dr. Richards,

I have adopted a male cat off of the street approximately 6 months ago. The vet guessed that at the time I found him, he was 1 1/2 months old. My question is, he has sneezed since the time that I found him. He sneezes probably once every hour. Otherwise, he is very healthy. He has a shiny coat, plenty of energy, and is perfectly healthy, other than the sneezing. He has not been tested for Feline Leukemia or FIP. He is not vaccinated for either one. Is this a possibility? Or is there something else that could be bothering him?

Thank You, Loretta

A: Loretta-

Feline leukemia virus infection or feline immunodeficiency virus infection can lead to chronic secondary illnesses and might be a factor in persistent sneezing. The most likely cause of this is probably herpesvirus (rhinotracheitis) infection, though. We have information on our site regarding this condition. I think that if you search using "herpesvirus" and cats I think it would show up in the search.

Mike Richards, DVM

Last edited 03/04/05


Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...