At a glance
About: Sneezing is the expulsion of air through the nose and mouth.
Diagnosis: Your veterinarian will examine your cat, accompanying symptoms may give a clue as to the cause of symptoms. Diagnostic tests may be necessary.
Treatment: Depends on the cause but may include supportive care for flu, surgery for cancer, polyps, abscess, cleft palate and foreign body and anti-fungal medications.
Sneezing is the result of an involuntary expulsion of air through the mouth and nose that is caused by an irritation of the mucous membranes of the nose. The occasional bout of sneezing is generally nothing to worry about, all cats will sneeze from time to time. If the sneezing is persistent and/or is accompanied by other symptoms, veterinary attention is necessary to find the underlying cause.
The medical word for sneezing is sternutation.
- Upper respiratory infection: Pathogens include bordetella, chlamydia, mycoplasma, feline herpesvirus 1 and calicivirus.
- Fungal infection: Cryptococcosis or aspergillosis
- Allergies such as pollen (hay fever) can cause sneezing but cats are more likely to develop skin disorders as a result of allergies
- Irritants such as cigarette smoke, chemicals, and dust
- Foreign object (grass seed etc)
- Dental abscess
- Cleft palate is a congenital abnormality or traumatic injury in which there is a split or a hole in the roof of the mouth
- Chemical irritants
- Gum disease
Should I see a veterinarian?
If sneezing is the only symptom your cat is experiencing and he seems otherwise well, then a wait and see approach may be taken. See a veterinarian if your cat has the following symptoms:
- Runny nose or eyes
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Oral or facial swelling
- Sneezing which doesn’t resolve within a few days
Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination of your cat and obtain a medical history. He will ask if the sneezing is acute (sudden onset) or chronic (long and persistent) if it occurs at a particular time (ie; seasonal) if there are other signs accompanying the sneezing, such as discharge (if any). All of this can narrow down the possible cause for your veterinarian.
There are different types of nasal discharge: serous (clear), mucoid, purulent, bloody. The type of discharge can help your veterinarian narrow down a cause.
If the sneezing is accompanied by a mucoid nasal or ocular discharge, fever, loss of appetite, eye discharge, sores in the mouth and upper respiratory infection is the likely cause.
- If the cat is shaking her head and or pawing at the nose, a foreign object may be lodged in the nostril.
- Nasopharyngeal polyps are quite rare in cats.
- If the cat also appears to suffer from itching, face/paw rubbing allergies may be the cause.
- If the sneezing occurs at a particular time of year it may be the result of a seasonal allergy, ie; pollen.
- If the sneezing on and off for a few hours, this may be nasal irritation or allergy (smoke, perfume etc). In this case, your veterinarian may suggest removing your cat from his environment for a few days to see if the sneezing stops.
- Sneezing accompanied by blood may be a sign of nasal cancer or fungal infection.
- Biochemical profile, complete blood count, and urinalysis are all standard tests to evaluate the health of your cat, look for signs of infection and inflammation.
- Cytology (microscopic examination) of nasal, oral or eye secretions.
- Bacterial culture and sensitivity of nasal, oral or eye secretions.
- Biopsy of the nasal tissue.
- Rhinoscopy (examination of the nasal passages) with a small flexible tube known as an endoscope.
- X-ray or CT scan can detect a dental abscess or cancer. This requires general anaesthesia.
- Platelet count in the case of blood coming from the nostrils.
- Fungal serology.
Treatment is aimed at addressing the underlying cause of sneezing and may include:
Dental abscess: Your cat will receive sedation, the veterinarian will lance the abscess, flush it with saline and where necessary, extract the affected tooth.
Fungal infection: Itraconazole, fluconazole or ketoconazole are the drugs of choice for treating fungal infections. Treatment with antifungal drugs can take several months and up to a year. Cats with the CNS form may require lifelong medication. Liver and kidney function need to be regularly monitored while your cat is on these drugs. Side effects such as anorexia and vomiting may occur.
Surgery may be necessary to remove lesions from the nasal cavity.
Bacterial infections: Oral antibiotics, the veterinarian may choose to perform a culture and sensitivity to determine the most suitable antibiotic.
Cancer: Surgery, where possible, as well as chemotherapy and or radiotherapy. If cancer is in the nose it is not always possible to surgically remove the tumour, in which case your veterinarian may recommend chemotherapy which isn’t curative but can shrink the tumour and give you more time with your cat.
Cat flu: In most cases, supportive care is all that can be provided while your cat fights the infection. This may include fluid treatment for dehydration, nutritional support, removal of discharge from the nose to assist breathing and eyes.
L-Lysine may be recommended if the cause is feline herpesvirus and/or antivirals. Antibiotics have no effect on viruses, but may be prescribed to treat secondary bacterial infections or for cats with Bordetella.
Foreign object: Removal of the foreign body if that is the cause. Most foreign bodies in the nose are caused by blades of grass or grass seeds.
Nasal polyps: Surgical removal of the polyps. If the polyps are within the bulla (middle ear), a bulla osteotomy will be necessary. This involves opening up the middle ear and removing the polyp(s).
Gum disease: Thorough cleaning above and below the gum line is necessary. In severe cases, where pocket depth is deep, your veterinarian may need to surgically access the roots by cutting the gums (open flap curettage). Tooth extraction may be necessary if the above procedures fail to resolve the problem or bone destruction is too great.
Allergies: Avoidance or removal of the allergen where possible. Your veterinarian may recommend antihistamines to relieve symptoms. Never administer these medications without veterinary approval.
Cleft palate: Surgical repair of the cleft in mild cases. The kitten must be 3-4 months of age before they can have surgery. There are several techniques used to treat cleft palates depending on the severity, the most common technique is using a flap to cover the area. Bone and cartilage grafts may be required to reconstruct the hard palate. A veterinarian experienced in the surgical repair of cleft palates should be used. In some cases, two or more surgeries may be necessary to fully repair the cleft.
Chemical irritants: Sneezing should subside once the chemical has dissipated. Avoid the use of chemicals and smoking around cats.
- If your cat also has nasal discharge, putting him in a steamy bathroom can help to clear the airways. In some cases, your veterinarian may recommend the use of saline nasal sprays or decongestants to help relieve a blocked nose. Never administer human medications to your cat to treat sneezing without veterinary supervision.
- Appetite stimulants may be administered to a cat who is not eating.