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Everything you need to know about the causes of a cat's sneezing

By Nick Whittle Author

Updated on the

Cats sneeze. But when is lots of sneezing too much sneezing? Learn everything you need to know about cat sneezes.

There are lots of reasons why a cat (or a kitten) sneezes. A sneeze now and then isn’t anything to worry about but a cat that sneezes continuously needs some extra care and attention.

A sneeze is just a sneeze. It isn’t a problem on its own and it doesn’t hurt the cat to sneeze. But a bout of lots of sneezes is a symptom of something else. And too many sneezes will start to take their toll of your cat just like they would a person.

What is a sneeze?

A sneeze is a normal response to a stimulus in the nose. It is a complicated process that involves the passage of electrical impulses backwards and forwards between the cat's brain and its nose.

Knowing what causes excessive sneezing is useful because you can act to try to treat the problem that is causing it. And sometimes, the problem is more serious than you might think: especially if sneezes are accompanied by a shortness of breath, a reduction in the animal’s appetite or even blood.

Six causes of cat sneezes:

1. Mild irritant

When something tickles the inside of a cat’s nose – usually a speck of dust, a grain of sand or an insect – the cat has a way of getting rid of it. The tickle felt in the nose is processed by the cat's brain and the brain automatically sends back a signal to all of the muscles and nerves needed to make the cat sneeze: including his chest muscles and diaphragm.

This all happens very fast and in less than a second the sneeze is over; so too has whatever caused the sneeze been expelled from the cat’s nose.

2. Virus

Some viruses can cause cats to sneeze more often than normal. Although viruses can’t be treated, their symptoms (eye ulcers, fever, lethargy, conjunctivitis, etc.) can be managed. Viral infections can sometimes give rise to more serious bacterial infections of the eye or throat; fortunately bacterial infections are more easily treated with medications such as antibiotics.

Viral infections common to the domesticated cat are:

  • Infectious Enteritis
  • Herpes Virus
  • Calicivirus
  • Leukaemia Virus
  • Rabies

Bacterial infections common to the cat are:

  • Bordetellosis
  • Chlamydophilosis

Other symptoms to look out for: persistent cough, tears or discharge from the eyes.

3. More serious irritants

A cat or kitten that lives with humans is exposed to other nastier contaminants that cause excessive sneezing. Cats are particularly sensitive to chemical smells of products such as bleach, fly spray, glue and paint. The noses of some cats are also sensitive to cigarette smoke and perfumes.

The problem with such irritants is that they are not as easily dislodged from the lining of the nose as dirt and bugs and that means that a cat may sneeze violently but with no expulsion.

Other symptoms to look out for: persistent cough, difficulty breathing, discharge from eyes.

4. Oral diseases

Problems in the cat’s mouth may cause him to sneeze. Like most animals the roots of some of the cat’s larger teeth of the top jaw are very close to the sinuses and nasal cavity.

Inflammation of the gum (gingivitis) or diseases and decay of teeth can have a knock-on effect on the sensitivity of the nose; this in turn causes the cat to sneeze. If your cat is sneezing a lot his teeth should be checked to rule out tooth decay as the reason for his sneezing.

Other symptoms to look out for: bad breath, loss of appetite, sensitivity to hard foods, drooling.

5. Environmental allergies

Incidents of animal ‘hay fever’ are much fewer than they are of a human; nevertheless some cats and dogs are prone to outdoor allergies. Pollen is high in spring and summer and although it does not upset most cats some are allergic to it. Pollen gets caught in a cat's fur and ears and is absorbed into his blood stream via the skin. This will lead to your cat biting, licking and scratching themselves a lot.

Other symptoms to look out for: scratching, skin biting, coughing, facial swelling.

6. Vaccines and medications

Cats and kittens sometimes suffer with side effects after a vaccination. It is useful for them to go through this though because it boosts their immunity. Vaccinations shouldn't be avoided in an attempt to 'protect' your cat from side effects. After all, the side effects are self-limiting but the diseases they are designed to fight are not. You must make sure your cat gets regular vaccinations.

Other symptoms to look out for: fever, reduced appetite, lethargy.

Most cat and kitten sneezes are a reaction to a benign tickle or an irritation of your cat’s nose. But if his sneezing becomes more intense and violent and doesn’t go away you should consider that something more sinister is wrong with him.

To learn what other symptoms to spot gives you an ability to react swiftly to a problem before it worsens. But remember, a ‘sneeze’ on its own cannot be treated; it is just a reaction. Treat the underlying cause in order to relieve the symptoms.

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