A single sneeze from your cat is normal, but what if it continues? In fact, sneezing and wheezing in cats can signify trouble. It may even warrant a visit to your family veterinarian. When consulting with your family veterinarian, be sure to note when the sneezing began and how long it has been going on.
If your cat has repeated bouts of sneezing and wheezing, he or she could have a serious health problem such as one of the following:
Upper Respiratory Tract Infections
Frequent sneezing and nasal discharge or both can signal an upper respiratory tract infection in cats. Upper respiratory infections are very common in young cats, outdoors cats, barn cats, or those in high density housing situations. Infectious agents may be bacterial, viral or much less commonly fungal in nature. Viral infections complicated by secondary bacterial infection are most common. Don’t ignore symptoms such as chronic sneezing. Rather, seek the advice of your family veterinarian. You cat could require treatment ranging from antibiotics, antiviral medications to vaccines for common disease-causing microbes.
In some instances, sneezing may indicate the development of a nasal cavity tumor. Nasal tumors are the second most common diagnoses related to symptomatic sneezing and nasal discharge (infectious upper respiratory infections are most common). If necessary, your veterinarian may recommend a more detailed examination of your cat’s nasal passages such as nasal computed tomography and rhinoscopy. This will involve putting your cat under general anesthesia. Referral to a board-certified internal medicine specialist may be recommended for advanced diagnostic imaging.
If your veterinarian finds any evidence of a tumor, a biopsy will be performed. A small sample of tissue will be removed for subsequent microscopic analysis (biopsy). Although some tumors (also called neoplasms) are benign, the majority of nasal tumors are cancerous. The most common is nasal lymphoma followed by nasal carcinomas.
Nasal foreign bodies
Nasal foreign bodies are an infrequent cause of chronic sneezing in cats. They usually consist of items or objects that are inadvertently inhaled, becoming lodged somewhere in the upper respiratory tract. Although this problem appears to be more common in dogs, it’s also seen in cats.
Seed, grass blades, small sticks, and an invasive weed called foxtail or cheatgrass are frequent sources of this problem.
Allergens and irritants
Like humans, some cats may be allergic to airborne allergens, such as house dust or plant pollen. Allergies occur when the immune system overreacts to an otherwise innocuous substance. Although flower pollen is incapable of causing harm, it may trigger an immune response upon inhalation. In cats, as in humans, this may mean sneezing, coughing and others symptoms of upper respiratory distress. See your family veterinarian for a diagnosis. In the interim, remove any new sources of potential allergens or irritants such as a new perfume.