Achoo! It’s a cute, high-pitched little squeak, an adorable little “cat moment” that warms the heart of a pet parent when they hear it. But then, another squeak sounds, and another. Eventually, one thought keeps repeating: why is my cat sneezing? Can cats get a cold? A sweet quirk can quickly become a cause of concern when a feline can’t seem to stop snorting, snuffling, and sneezing, but is it really something to worry about?
Cats can get the sniffles, tickles in their nasal cavity, or a sudden sneeze when confronted by dust: they’re much like humans, dogs, and other animals in that aspect. It’s knowing which sneezes are symptoms and which are simply reflexes that’s important. Here’s how to tell the difference between a cat needing a simple “gesundheit!” and an appointment with a feline health care provider.
Cat Sneezing Frequency
The best measure for severity when it comes to a cat sneezing is observing how often it happens, and determining if other symptoms are present. A single sneeze is almost never cause for concern unless it comes with discharge, such as excessive mucus, drool, or blood from the mouth or nose. Just as sneezes are a fact of life for humans, cats sneeze for a variety of benign reasons, such as inhaling irritants like dust, pollen, or strong scents in their nose.
A sneeze, whether human or feline, is a reflex triggered by the body to push unwanted or foreign particles out. This involuntary rush of outgoing air sweeps away irritants, preventing them from further stimulating sensitive tissues and tiny hairs inside the nose. While this reflex is often set off by the surrounding environment, it can also occur due to infections within the body.
As far as how many cat sneezes are considered “normal”, there is no definitive number. However, it takes consistent and ongoing sneezing to signal a real issue. It’s reasonably safe to say that sneezing once a day, or in direct response to a stimuli like a room fragrance spray, is generally safe to ignore.
Environmental Causes For Cat Sneezing
There are a number of everyday products and seemingly harmless habits that could trigger bouts of sneezing in a pet cat. Remember, a cat’s experience with their indoor environment is much different than a human’s; they are much closer to the carpet, for example, which means that carpet shampoo that barely registers to a human nose is front-and-center for a feline sniffer. Below, a few common household products to keep in mind that may be triggering his incessant sneezing:
Laundry Detergent / Softener: Believe it or not, a recent change in laundry detergent or softener can cause allergic reactions in cats, ranging from mild (a few sneezes) to severe (difficulty breathing.) Cats come into close contact with their owner’s clothes and often their bed linens as well, giving their nose plenty of opportunity to twitch at the new scent. Helpful hint: Switch to an unscented detergent and softener and see if it makes a difference.
Cleaning Products: Whether a spray, scrub, or polish is new or used sparingly, a fragranced product can be the culprit behind cat sneezing fits. That’s because these products have a tendency to linger at the perfect cat height: a few inches up from the floor or recently-cleaned surface. Helpful hint: Air out any recently-cleaned rooms thoroughly, and allow pets a scent-free area to retreat to.
Home Fragrance Products: For the sake of feline respiratory health, pet parents are usually advised to avoid home fragrance products that have an aerosol effect, including sprays and oil diffusers. Not only do cats directly breathe these potentially harmful particles in, they also orally ingest what settles on their fur, causing stomach upset and internal issues. Helpful hint: Avoid heavy, cloying home fragrance scents, and do not use aerosolized fragrance methods/products.
Personal Fragrance Products: That new cologne or shampoo may smell nice, but cats have no way to disagree – other than sneezing, of course. Keep new scents to a minimum, and introduce them slowly whenever possible. Always give domestic cats a low or no-scent area to retreat to, just in case they’re feeling overwhelmed by the new fragrance. Helpful hint: Introduce any new scents gradually, and do not use or apply them immediately before handling or hugging a cat.
Dust and Dander: Bringing a new pet or person into the home may also introduce unfamiliar allergens in the form of dust and dander on their hair/fur, clothing, and belongings. If anyone new has come into the home recently, whether they walk on two legs or four, they may be the cause behind a sudden bout of cat sneezing. Helpful hint: Vacuum and dust frequently, bathe pets according to vet recommendations, and wash/wipe down any new belongings coming into the home.
Stress: In some cats, particularly “flat-faced” breeds like Persians, sneezing or vocalizing can be an external sign of stress. This often happens during periods of significant change, such as moving homes, or bringing a new baby or pet home. If no other environmental factors are immediately apparent and medical causes have been ruled out, this cause should be considered. Helpful hint: Daily use of at-home stress treatments, such as CBD supplements for cats, can help support a calmer, happier pet and reduce stress coughing. As in any new cat supplement or treatment, be sure to consult a trusted vet first before administering.
Medical Causes For Cat Sneezing
If environmental concerns have been ruled out but a cat is still sneezing frequently, feline medical problems may be the culprit. While each of the following conditions are a potential cause of cat sneezes, don’t assume the worst: many symptoms of benign or easily-curable medical issues can seem a lot more serious to a pet parent in a state of worry or panic. Here are a few of the more common causes of sneezing episodes in cats:
Upper Respiratory Infection: This may be viral or bacterial in nature, but in either case a vet will be needed to diagnose and treat the symptoms. Frequent sneezing, especially several sneezes in a row with discharge present, point to this medical cause. Other symptoms – lethargy, disinterest in eating, disinterest in playing, or seeming “tired out” after very little exercise – will also point to a respiratory infection causing discomfort.
Feline Dental Problems: Dental disease can trigger sneezing fits, as a cat’s body attempts to alleviate the irritation or pain caused by gum or tooth decay like periodontitis. If a cat sneezes frequently and seems to be hesitant or slow to eat his food, feline dental issues could be the cause. A quick tooth and mouth examination at a vet’s office can rule this out or help determine a treatment plan, if necessary.
Systemic Infections or Diseases: Sneezing in young cats – particularly if they’ve just been adopted from a shelter or obtained from a breeder – may be a sign of cat-to-cat viruses such as feline herpes and calicivirus, or bacterial infections like bordetella. Pet parents can help prevent these problems by keeping vaccinations up to date and getting a full feline medical exam for any new cats prior to bringing them into the home.
Seasonal Allergies: Just like their human companions, cats can experience allergies to fungal spores, pollen, mildews, and molds, with severity increasing in certain seasons of the year. While online advice often encourages the use of certain human medications to treat seasonal allergies in cats, avoid doing so without vet guidance. While it may appear that an allergy is the solo cause of sneezing in a cat, they may simply be a coincidental trigger for deeper, more serious respiratory issues.
Physical Injuries to the Nose: Cats aren’t exactly keen on being physically examined, and are instinctually driven to conceal any injuries to avoid appearing as prey. That means if they get into a scuffle with another cat or animal, or get too rambunctious playing, they could potentially have an “invisible” scratch or wound inside the nose. If they paw or rub their nose and sneeze at roughly the same time, this is a likely possibility. Feline experts suggest examining domestic cats daily during playtime or grooming, particularly if they’re indoor-outdoor cats, or if there are multiple felines living in the household.
Relief From Wheezing And Sneezing
Keeping an eye on indoor air quality for pets is one of the best ways to prevent uncomfortable sneezing fits in all the members of a household – feline, human, or otherwise. Here are a few simple tips to keep air quality problems outside, rather than in a sniffly cat’s nose, throat, and lungs:
- Use a calendar reminder app to ensure your HVAC filters, if applicable, are changed on a regular basis. Opt for a particulate filter that matches your needs – the more pets in the home, the more heavy-duty the filter type you’ll need.
- Consider running air purifiers or other air-cleaning devices to help keep dust, dander, and pollen out of the air.
- Vacuum, dust, and mop frequently to keep debris and particles from going airborne as they dry.
- Slip off your shoes at the door to avoid tracking outside allergens and potential irritants into your carpet.
- Utilize washable pet bedding and use good washing and grooming practices to keep loose fur and dander to a minimum.
Sneezing in cats is common and expected – a little squeak now and then shouldn’t mean dashing for the phone to frantically call the vet. However, by keeping the immediate environment as free of stress, biological irritants, and unnecessary fragrance as possible, it’s a lot more likely that both cats and their humans will breathe a bit easier.
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