HEALTH & CARE

Cat Coughing and Sneezing: Learn the Many Possible Reasons Behind It

gray cat sneezing
Steve Corelli
Written by Steve Corelli

When you catch your cat coughing and sneezing, you may wonder if this is a cause for concern. Humans cough and sneeze often enough, and it usually goes away on its own after a while. But can the same be said about cats? Or should you take your cat to the vet immediately? Read more about that below.

When cats cough or sneeze, it means that there is something that is irritating his throat or nostril. It can also mean that there are health concerns that should be addressed right away. Causes for cat coughing and sneezing can either be harmless or serious and life-threatening. It is important to be aware of the possible causes so you can devise an appropriate countermeasure.

There are numerous possible causes of cat sneezing, and we’ll cover them in this article. Your options for cat sneezing and coughing treatment and prevention will also be tackled in this article.

Why is Your Cat Sneezing?

Let’s be straightforward about this—there are many possible reasons for a cat to sneeze.

A harmless cause of sneezing is a simple tickle in the cat’s nose. Just like ours, a cat’s nose is the primary barrier that stops irritants from being breathed in by cats. There are tiny hairs inside the cat’s nostrils that catch dust, dirt, pollen, and other particles. These environmental irritants can cause a tickle in the cat’s nose.

Plus, when a cat inhales, say, a bit of pepper, he would instinctively sneeze. It’s like an itch where the reflexive reaction is to sneeze. These are the causes of cat sneezing that are practically harmless. However, there are other, more concerning causes of cat sneezing, such as:

#1: Upper Respiratory Infections

cat sneezing

These are quite common in cats, particularly kittens. When we say upper respiratory infections, we can pertain to various diseases occurring alone or in combination. These diseases have the same set of symptoms affecting the upper respiratory tract, including the nose and the throat. In short, cats can have colds, too, just like us.

Usually, upper respiratory infections are due to bacterial and viral infections. Feline herpesvirus 1 is a common cause of this disease as well as bacteria such as Chlamydophila felis, Bordetella bronchiseptica, and Mycoplasma spp.

As mentioned earlier, kittens often suffer from feline respiratory infections especially when they are not yet vaccinated. But even adult cats may get it. Vets say cats who are housed together are at high risk for feline respiratory infections because the virus or bacteria causing it can be shared by direct contact or by contact with contaminated objects like bedding or dishes.

It has also been found that flat-faced cat breeds like Persians are susceptible to this condition.

Aside from sneezing, other symptoms of upper respiratory infection in cats are fever, nasal discharge, runny eyes, red eyes, and squinting. Some cats may also drool. Others appear to have lost their appetite, and some simply don’t have the energy that they usually have.

#2: Allergens and Irritants

cat and candle

Cat sneezing can also be attributed to allergens and irritants like tobacco smoke, perfume, and chemical fumes. Just like in humans, cats sneeze because it is their body’s means of ridding the irritation.

Although cats can show allergy symptoms in other parts of the body, particularly the skin, let’s also remember that the nasal membranes of felines are extremely sensitive. Many household items such as detergents, scented candles, chemicals, pest sprays, among others can cause excessive coughing and sneezing in cats.

If you suspect that cat’s sneezing is because of this, ask yourself: is there any household product that your cat may have been exposed to? Maybe your cat has gotten near the laundry detergent? Did you change your perfume? All these questions can help you pinpoint the cause.

#3: Dental Problem

cat's teeth

You won’t believe it, but sneezing can also be related to your cat’s teeth. Periodontal disease, which is considered the most common dental problem in cats age ten years and below, could be the reason why your cat is sneezing.

The word “periodontal” is of ancient Greek origin which means “around the tooth.” It refers to a disease afflicting the tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth. It can cause changes in the teeth, including discoloration, bad breath, and yes, sneezing. The good thing is that periodontal disease is completely preventable.

Periodontal disease starts when bacteria grow in the cat’s mouth, resulting in the formation of plaque biofilm. Eventually, the biofilm mineralizes and turns into tartar. The combination of tartar and bacteria in the mouth leads to inflammation, which then causes periodontal disease.

But you might wonder—how in the world can an infected tooth cause a cat to sneeze? In periodontal disease, an inflamed tooth can lead to chronic sinus infection because of the proximity of the teeth to the nasal passages. There is the possibility that bacteria from the infected tooth can establish in the nasal sinus, resulting in the sinus infection.

Aside from sneezing, other symptoms of periodontal disease are facial swelling, bleeding or discharge from the mouth, and pawing at the mouth. It is also common for the affected tooth to be discolored. Affected cats typically chew only on one side of their mouths or grind their tooth.

See Also: How to Brush Cat Teeth

#4: Foreign Body

fluffy cat sneezing

Cats who inhaled foreign bodies will also sneeze incessantly as their bodies try to expel the material. Foreign bodies could include grass, pollen, and other materials that are small enough to enter the respiratory tract. The material can then lodge in the nose, trachea, throat, and bronchi.

Aside from sneezing, there are other symptoms that would tell you that a cat has inhaled foreign bodies. These include nasal discharge, incessant shaking of the head, nose bleeds, and nose pawing. Other cats also cough, wheeze, and worse, faint.

#5: Intranasal Vaccine

nasal vaccine for a cat

It is also common for cats who receive intranasal vaccine to sneeze days after receiving it. Intranasal vaccines protect kitties from different diseases including upper respiratory infections, feline distemper, calicivirus, or diseases affecting the mouth, nose, and eyes.

Sneezing is considered a mild side effect of the intranasal vaccine. Normally, cats would experience it 4-7 days after receiving the vaccine. It is also possible for the cat to throw up, appear depressed, or develop sores on the mouth and nose.

Why Do Cats Cough?

Just like in sneezing, cat coughing can be due to either simple or serious reasons. For example, your cat could be coughing because his collar is restricting his breathing! So check the collar first and loosen it a bit. If the coughing stops, then you know that it is due to the tight collar.

It is also possible that a foreign body has gotten into the cat’s body. Hairballs are another culprit. As you may know, cats groom themselves by licking their hair. Their tongues pull away hair with each lick. All the hair often ends up being swallowed by the feline, irritating his throat and stomach in the process. Eventually, the cat would cough it up.

Those are considered mild causes of cat coughing. However, there are also other serious causes of cat coughing, such as:

#1: Asthma

cat coughing

This is considered a common respiratory issue in cats. In fact, an estimated 800,000 felines in the United States alone suffer from it. It happens when irritants get into the cat’s respiratory tract and hinder the feline’s ability to breathe.

There are numerous risk factors for asthma. Cats who spend a lot of time outdoors are more likely to develop it. Exposure to smoke, perfume, dust, pollen, and other irritants can cause a cat to have asthma. Stress and obesity are risk factors, too.

Here’s one thing to remember about asthma—if left untreated, it can lead to the cat dying.

See Also: Cat Asthma

#2: Pneumonia

white cat ill

It is also possible for a cat’s lungs to become inflamed because of a mycotic infection which can then lead to pneumonia. Coughing is one of the earliest signs of the infection although other severe symptoms like fever, weight loss, and nose/eye discharge would soon follow.

One way to diagnose feline pneumonia is to identify the organism through biopsy. Further diagnostic procedures may also be needed, including urine analysis and abdominal ultrasound.

Another cause of cat coughing that is related to pneumonia is the Kennel Cough. Also called Bordetella bronchiseptica, this is an upper respiratory infection that can affect pets. Cats, however, aren’t as prone to it as their canine counterparts. It’s a scary condition because it can also lead to death if not treated early.

#3: Heartworms

tabby cat coughing

These are worms about a foot long that can live inside the feline’s body including the heart, veins, and lungs. These worms can cause severe lung ailment and heart failure in cats.

While heartworms hosted in cats normally won’t progress to the adult stage, these worms can cause serious damage such as heartworm-associated respiratory disease. Moreover, heartworms in cats are difficult to detect, so treatment is often limited or delayed.

See Also: How to Tell If Cat Has Worms

#4: Lung Cancer

cat is sick

Without a doubt, the most serious reason for cat coughing is lung cancer. Also called adenocarcinoma, this cancer spreads quickly and affects other parts of the body like the liver, kidney, bones, lymph nodes, eyes, and brain. Lung cancer is common in older cats, or those who are at least ten years old.

The main cause of lung cancer is still unknown, although it is believed that cats who live in the city are more susceptible to it.

Coughing is one of the more common symptoms of cat lung cancer. In some cases, the cat can even cough up blood. The affected cat may also have trouble breathing, look lethargic, or noticeably lose weight. Other symptoms include rapid breathing, fever, and poor appetite.

Diagnosis of lung cancer is thorough and comprehensive. Aside from reviewing the cat’s health history, the vet will also perform a physical examination and order numerous lab tests.

Prevention and Treatment of Cat Coughing and Sneezing

grooming a cat

With the many possible causes of cat coughing and sneezing, you may wonder about the things you can do to lower the risks of your cat suffering from these conditions.

One of the best ways to reduce the risks of your cat sneezing is to keep irritants away from your cat’s reach. Simple household items like hairspray, air deodorizer, and perfume among others should be stored in areas your cat has no access to.

If you smoke, don’t do it around your cat. Smoking is a common irritant that can cause your cat to cough and sneeze. You can also use an air humidifier when the atmosphere is dry especially during winter.

It also helps if you test your cat for parasites on a yearly basis. Early detection can help in getting rid of parasites that can cause serious feline health problems.

Weight problems can also cause health problems in cats like coughing and sneezing. Make sure that your cat gets regular exercise, and watch his food intake. Consult with your vet regarding the right diet for your feline.

Because hairballs can cause cat coughing, you should make an effort to groom your cat. Regular cat brushing will help in removing loose and dead hair that could end up in his stomach and cause him to cough.

Treatment will vary depending on the underlying cause of the cat coughing and sneezing. In severe causes of cat coughing and sneezing, the feline may have to be hospitalized so that intensive care and treatment will be provided. Antibiotics can help in curtailing infections while oxygen can be given in case the pet is having problems breathing.

Wrap Up

healthy orange cat

The bottom line is that there are many causes of cat coughing and sneezing. There are simple causes such as allergens and irritants while there are also severe or serious causes like periodontal disease, upper respiratory conditions, and lung cancer.

If you catch your cat sneezing or coughing occasionally, then you may dismiss this as a simple case of him getting irritated with allergens around his surroundings. But if you notice other symptoms like loss of appetite, lethargy, discharge from the eyes and nose, and blood in the nose, then you should bring him to the vet right away.

What do you think is the cause behind your cat’s coughing and sneezing? Do you know of any other causes aside from the ones mentioned above? Share your thoughts below. Next, check out our article on how often should you take your cat to the vet, so you can keep him healthy.

About the author
Steve Corelli
Steve Corelli

Steve Corelli is a Pet Nutrition Expert from Allentown, Pennsylvania. He is the author of many nutritional strategies for different breeds and a member of some Pet Food development teams. His Maine Coon Stephan, as you might guess, is always well-fed.

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