Cats sneeze a lot. 99% of the time, when your cat randomly sneezes, it's because they got a bit of fluff up their nose, just like when we sneeze. It's not a big deal. Unless, of course, the sneezing is repetitive, has a sudden onset, and is associated with other symptoms like nasal or eye discharge (either clear or colored). In the following blog post, we'll look at why cats sneeze, the connection between cats' sneezes and Herpes, and how to know when it's time to get your feline friend to the veterinarian.
Love Is Fleeting, But Herpes is Forever – the Chronic Recurring Sneezing Cat
Sorry for the flippant heading, but it's true! Cats get Herpes (Feline Herpesvirus infections (FHV), just as humans do. Not the exact SAME Herpes, mind you – you can't get Herpes from your cat. Nevertheless, cat Herpes behaves in many ways similar to human Herpes.
The ways in which cat and human Herpes are similar are:
a) A cat exposed to Herpes once has Herpes forever.
b) Vaccines protecting against Herpes do exist but are often administered too late since Herpes can be transmitted in the womb.
c) Herpes may also be transmitted between sneezing cats.
When Herpes Strikes in Your Cat
The feline Herpes virus has an insidious trick up its sleeve! Like a train carrying a stowaway, your cat might be carrying Herpes around their whole life, sneezing it all over every cat they encounter. Most of the time, this is no big deal since your cat is sneezing all over cats that already have Herpes in their system.
When we get into trouble, however, is when a STRESS – be it physical or emotional (you know how emotional cats can get!) strikes your favorite feline. You go out of town for a few days, the neighbor comes in to take care of your kitty, and next thing you know, you've got a sneezing cat! That's because the stress compromised the cat's immune system, temporarily shutting down their normal defenses. The Herpes virus that had lain dormant in their system since the cat initially came in contact with the disease suddenly leaps into action, making your poor pet sick.
When Should I Take My Sneezing Cat To The Vet?
Herpes in adult, fully immunized cats usually presents as a mild case of sneezing with a runny nose and runny eyes. It's no big deal, and in fact, if there is no colored eye discharge or colored nose boogers, and they're eating, drinking, and going to the bathroom, and your sneezing cat is otherwise and mainly acting normal, we don't treat them at all.
On the other hand, if your sneezing cat has a compromised immune system or is feeling physical or emotional stress, the Herpes outbreak may be more severe.
Consider taking your cat to the veterinarian if:
a) Clear eye discharge turns into yellow-green eye boogers with squinting and redness
b) Clear nose discharge turns into yellow-green nose boogers
c) Nasal congestion causes a drop in appetite (cats won't eat if they can't smell their food)
d) Other symptoms develop that may suggest pneumonia – coughing, lethargy, fever
e) Other symptoms develop that may suggest sinusitis – lethargy, fever, headache – for example, the cat is scrunched up in a little ball with their head in their paws, not socializing
f) Dehydration develops - check out this resource to know if your cat is dehydrated
What You Can Do For Your Sneezing Cat At Home
You can do a few things to help your poor sneezing cat breathe better while the immune system does its job.
Some things you can do to minimize symptoms for your sneezing cat are:
1) Clean your house thoroughly to minimize airborne irritants like dust or perfumes.
2) Change to a low-dust cat litter – bigger granules don't clump as well, but they give off less dust.
3) Add moisture to the air with a vaporizer, steam from a hot shower, or a boiling kettle of water.
4) Apply saline nose drops to help thin mucus in the nasal passages and relieve irritation that may cause sneezing.
A cat sneeze can be a benign and, dare we say, even cute occurrence. But if you think it's something more ominous, please err on the side of caution and call you local primary care veterinarian.