Sunday 9 November 2008

Feline Sneezing


When we sneeze it is because of an irritated nose, we can feel it. The irritation can be from various sources, some benign and transient and some disease based. Feline sneezing is the same.

Feline sneezing is a sign of nasal irritation. The lining of the nose is stimulated which sets up the reflex action of sneezing, the purpose of which is to get rid of the irritation by ejecting the thing that is causing it.

cat sneezing

This boy, Goku, lives with fofurasfelinas (the well known cat photographer on Flickr, real name Giane Portal) and he apparently may have an allergy causing sneezing. The photograph is by fofurasfelinas. See base of post for rights to publish.

If I go into London for a few hours, a day or two later I sneeze because of a build of dirt in the nose (the London atmosphere is grimy). Likewise, if our cat looks healthy but has a bout of sneezing it may well be a benign irritant that can be resolved by the sneezing.

The big question with feline sneezing is when is it caused by a disease that requires a veterinarian's attention. I understand the reasons for delaying going to the vets (money!) but delay can make things worse, obviously.

Some detail

I guess careful observation and awareness plus a knowledge of our cat will inform us when to go to the vet. A short bout of sneezing by an otherwise healthy cat is fine and normal. The authors of "Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook" (Drs Carlson and Giffin - a great book by the way, recommended), say that if the sneezing lasts a day it could be a sign of feline viral respiratory disease. Personally if my cat sneezed for more than about one hour I'd be watching carefully and after three hours I'd be thinking of going to the veterinarian.

If the sneezing is vigorous ("violent" the doctors say) with head shaking (to help release the irritant) and pawing at the nose, the cause is probably a foreign object in the nose (see below).

A runny nose caused by a cold causes feline sneezing. If the discharge from the nose lasts for several hours it may mean an infection. The type of "discharge" that accompanies the sneezing is significant:
  • watery - local irritation or allergic rhinitis
  • mucoid - feline viral respiratory disease complex (see below)
  • yellow - bacterial infection
Feline viral respiratory disease (URI - Upper Respiratory Infection) can be accompanied by a fever, loss of appetite, eye discharge, drooling and a cough. If both nostrils are blocked breathing might be through the mouth.

If there is blood in the nasal discharge this indicates a chronic bacterial infection, fungal infection or a tumor.

A simple cat cold caused by a virus that results in relatively mild symptoms can also result in feline sneezing. All the above will mean a visit to the vet asap.

Reverse sneezing

Infrequently encountered and harmless the cat produces a loud snorting sound. It is caused by mucus building up at the back of the throat, which results in a spasm of the larynx muscles. This apparently is nothing to be alarmed about. I have never seen it happen.

Foreign bodies in nose

Small objects can become lodged in the nose. This may be because cats use their nose (sense of smell) a lot to identify objects. An object stuck in the nose causes violent sneezing. Our cat will use all means to expel it. She may do one or more of the following:
  • the head may be tilted to the affected side
  • the eye on the side of the blockage may squint
  • the nose may be dropped to the floor, the neck extended and the cat breathes deeply
Objects stuck in the nose can cause secondary (bacterial) infections requiring antibiotics. Although a visit to the vet is strongly indicated it may be possible to see the object if, for example, it is near the end of nose. It may be possible to remove it (with great care and if in doubt the vet will do it). It may be possible to see it at the back of the throat (the nasal passages join the throat).

Nasal Allergies

These are caused by allergens (airborne allergens). There are bouts of feline sneezing and a watery discharge. See feline allergies for a general discussion on allergies affecting cats.


As a result of common viral infections secondary bacterial infections of the frontal sinuses can occur. I get secondary bacterial infections in my sinuses so I can fully understand this one. The symptoms are a yellow purulent (like pus) nasal discharge and frequent sneezing. Blocked sinuses cause headaches (I should know). A cat with a headache may sit quietly with eyes partially closed and her head hanging. There could be a loss of appetite and weight loss. Fungal infections can cause sinusitis. I believe that a fungal infection of the skin can migrate to the sinuses and ear canal as well. This may result in an increased production of ear wax.

Polyps and tumors in nasal cavity and sinuses

Tumors cause feline sneezing, obstructed breathing and possibly bleeding. Advanced tumors may be noticed by forcing the face out of shape or causing an eye to bulge. Polyps are rare. They block the Eustachian tube and cause a middle ear infection. The Eustachian tube goes from the middle ear to the back of the mouth (pharynx) and equalizes pressure in the ear.

Feline Sneezing to Cat Health Problems

Photo: published under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs creative commons License

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