My Cat Is Sneezing & Has Eye Discharge: Top 3 Reasons

Cats can be susceptible to sneezing with watery eyes or with an eye discharge and it’s important for the owners to be aware of this. As an experienced Veterinary Ophthalmologist, I have handled many cats with those issues and treated them accordingly. In this article, I will provide an overview of the various conditions that can cause sneezing and watery eyes in cats along with their associated symptoms in order to help you identify and treat them quickly and effectively so that any permanent damage or loss of sight can be avoided.

Sneezing & eye discharge in cats

Occasional sneezing in cats is usually considered normal, but if it happens more frequently or with force, it could indicate the presence of a problem and should be addressed. Sneezing accompanied by eye discharge can be caused by a range of issues, ranging from minor to serious. If you observe your cat frequently sneezing, with or without a discharge from their eyes, it is vital to consult a veterinarian immediately. This could indicate an underlying medical issue that requires prompt attention in order to ensure that your feline friend remains healthy.

When your feline friend has an issue with their eyes (including a discharge), some signs you may observe include:

  • Pain/blinking/keeping one or both eye(s) closed
  • Third eyelid protruding
  • Ocular discharge or weeping
  • Eye redness or swelling
  • Eye cloudiness
  • Coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge or any other symptoms

What could cause a cat to sneeze & have an eye discharge?

Common causes include:

  • Cat flu – a contagious respiratory illness that manifests as sneezing, runny nose and eye discharge. If left untreated, it can become life-threatening. Luckily, there is a vaccine that can help protect cats from the virus.
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Allergies
  • Irritants – various substances, such as fragrances, dust particles, and smoke, can trigger an uncontrollable sneeze. Allergens such as perfumes, dust, and smoke can cause a sneeze reflex which can sometimes be difficult to control.
  • A foreign body in the nose – sometimes cats may accidentally inhale blades of grass, which could get stuck in their nose or throat. This can lead to frequent and severe bouts of sneezing.
  • Growths and tumors – excessive growths inside the nose can lead to nasal discharge and persistent sneezing.

Let’s review in more details:

1. Cat Flu

Cats, like humans, can be affected by a flu-like illness that presents with symptoms such as fever, sneezing, watery eyes, and runny nose. Cat flu is a contagious disease and once infected, cats may retain the virus for life. This can lead to them having long-lasting symptoms that persist throughout their lifetime. There is currently no definitive cure for the symptoms associated with a particular illness, however medical treatment can help reduce the severity and speed up recovery. Kitten are usually more severely affected by infections than adults because their immune system is weaker and not as capable of combating them. If you notice any indications that your cat may have the flu, it is essential to contact your vet without delay. Prompt action can prevent the condition from deteriorating rapidly.

A picture of a cat with signs of cat flu:

signs of cat flu with eye discharge

Symptoms of cat flu

  • Sneezing
  • Eye discharge
  • Snotty nose
  • Low energy
  • Painful eyes (flu can cause eye ulcers)
  • Reduced appetite or no appetite at all
  • Oral ulcers
  • Fever
  • Sore throat (you might notice difficulty swallowing or gagging)
  • Coughing

Causes of cat flu

Causes of cats flu:

  • Herpes virus
  • Calicivirus
  • Chlamydophila bacteria
  • Bordetella

A cat that has an acute upper respiratory infection will be infective to other cats during the incubation period and for up to three weeks after developing symptoms. A cat that is a carrier of an upper respiratory virus may stay infective to other cats perpetually.

Cats that are unvaccinated, young or have chronic underlying conditions are more susceptible and may develop a serious illness. Adequately vaccinated adult cats may develop only a mild case of illness, which may resolve without treatment.

Treatment for cat flu

Your veterinarian may prescribe eye medication if your cat has a purulent eye discharge. Although viral infections do not respond to antibacterial drugs, broad-spectrum antibacterial drugs may be prescribed to prevent secondary bacterial infections from complicating the disease, particularly in kittens.

Primary bacterial upper respiratory infections caused by Bordetella or Chlamydophila will be treated with specific antibiotics that are effective against these diseases.

Home care

Once your cat has been treated by your vet, there are some things you can do at home to help your pet recover:

  • Try to keep your cat’s life as stress-free as possible because stress can make illness worse.
  • To encourage your pet to eat, try adding a little bit of warm food with strong scent like sardines, anchovies, or tuna to their meals, provided they do not have any allergies to these items.

2. Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis, the most common of all feline eye disorders or infections, is an inflammation of the thin mucous membrane (conjunctiva) that lines the inner surface of a cat’s eyelids and coats the outer surface of the eyeball. Many cats will experience at least a mild episode of the condition at some point in their lives. The clinical signs of the condition can be evident in either one or both eyes and will typically be observed as well in the third eyelid—the membrane positioned in the inner corner of a cat’s eye, between the lower eyelid and the eyeball.

The signs of conjunctivitis include:

  • Pain/blinking/keeping one or both eye(s) closed.
  • Presence of a discharge that, depending on the cause of the conjunctivitis, can be either colorless and watery or thick and dark-colored.
  • The conjunctiva and third eyelid become swollen and red.

Below is a picture of a cat with conjunctivitis and watery eye:

cat with conjunctivitis and eye discharge and sneezing

Treatment:

Veterinary treatment is usually all that is needed to manage mild conjunctivitis as it should not last long. Speak to your vet to discuss the right action plan. If your vet suspects that there is an underlying condition causing your cat’s conjunctivitis, they may need to run more tests or examinations to determine the cause.

It is likely your vet will recommend the following treatments:
– Anti-inflammatory treatment
– Topical or/ and systemic antibiotic for bacterial infection
– Topical or/ and systemic antiviral medication for viral infection
– Lubricating drops

When to contact your vet

Contact your vet as soon as you notice a problem with your cat’s eyes – eyes are precious and the problem could get worse if they aren’t treated quickly. If your cat has had weepy eyes for a while, book an appointment with your vet to have them checked. Even if the problem has been going on for a while, there is a chance that your pet could have a treatable condition.

3. Allergies

One of the most common medical conditions affecting cats is allergy. Allergy occurs when the cat’s immune system overreacts or is hypersensitive to foreign substances called allergens.

The signs of allergies include:

  • Sneezing
  • Sometimes nasal or ocular (eye) discharge
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Itching skin – in one part of the body or the whole body
  • Vomiting
  • Flatulence
  • Diarrhea

fluffy cat closed his eyes and sneezed

There are four common types of allergies in the cat:

  1. Insect (fleas)
  2. Food allergy
  3. Atopic dermatitis (house dust, pollen, and molds)
  4. Contact dermatitis

They all share common physical expressions and signs in cats, and each has unique features.

Treatments for allergies

If your cat displays symptoms of allergies, it may be necessary to manage the condition. There are three primary methods for managing feline allergies:

  • Try to avoid the triggers;
  • Treatment to manage itchy skin and watery eyes;
  • Immunotherapy/vaccination treatment.

When to contact your vet

In case your furry friend is experiencing itchy skin, watery eyes or any other symptoms mentioned earlier, it’s crucial to seek help from your veterinarian. Itchy skin and watery eyes in cats usually doesn’t subside on its own and can lead to discomfort and misery for your pet, regardless of the underlying cause. When a cat experiences anaphylaxis, it means that their body is having a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction to something they have ingested or been exposed to.

Common symptoms in a cat experiencing anaphylaxis include:

  • Collapse
  • Difficulties breathing
  • Hives
  • Facial swelling
  • Itchiness
  • Swelling
  • Trembling
  • Wheezing
  • Cold extremities
  • Pale gums
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

It is crucial to seek immediate medical attention for your cat if you suspect they are experiencing anaphylaxis.

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