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Why is my cat sneezing?

Cats, like many animals, will sneeze from time to time. An occasional sneeze, as with humans, is rarely of concern. If you notice that this sneezing becomes frequent, or there are other signs, then you may need to go to your vet’s for a pet check.  

What’s the most common cause of sneezing in cats?

Cat flu (upper respiratory infection).

Viral infections are the most common cause of excessive, but temporary, sneezing in cats. 90% of infections are due to feline calicivirus or feline herpesvirus with exposure to infected saliva, tears or snot causing it to spread. Although sneezing is a common sign, most have other signs such as coughing, runny eyes, conjunctivitis, a snotty nose and mouth or eye ulcers. Many cats lose their appetite and become lethargic and febrile. Bacteria such as Bordetella bronchiseptica can cause similar signs including sneezing but is a less common culprit. Older cats, kittens, and cats with reduced immune system function, can become very ill and develop secondary infections like pneumonia. In these cats, flu can be life threatening. A vaccine is available and used routinely in the UK to protect against these viruses. Treatment is aimed at the symptoms: giving intravenous fluids if there is dehydration; antibiotics if secondary bacterial infections are suspected; and steam and nebulizers to help breathing. Warmed tasty food is essential given their sense of smell is affected. Interferons (proteins produced by the body that fight viruses) have been produced but so far with limited effectiveness. There are some antivirals that may be helpful against oral and eye symptoms. Most cats infected with herpesvirus remain carriers. Some don’t shed significant amounts of virus, some shed intermittently when stressed and may or may not show signs themselves. Stress may include having kittens or going to a cattery, for example. Many kittens are infected by apparently well mums in this way. Cats with FCV remain carriers for a few weeks but usually eliminate it.  

My cat’s sneezing is not going away. What could be the cause?

There are a range of possibilities...

Post-viral or idiopathic rhinitis.

Some cats suffer permanent damage of the lining of the nasal cavity, or even the bone, after viral infection, leaving the nasal cavity susceptible to recurring bacterial infection. This post-viral rhinitis (nasal inflammation), is the most common cause of chronic nasal disease and sneezing. It can happen without viral involvement (idiopathic) but is less common and poorly understood.   As the damage is permanent, the aim is management not cure. This can be frustrating, with frequent vet visits and poor long-term quality of life. Antibiotics for bacterial infections are used but these infections can recur very frequently. Nebulisation can help to loosen secretions and allow more effective sneezing. In non-viral cases corticosteroid medication may help. Regular bathing of the face and nose, and warming food to make it more appealing, are basic considerations but important.  

Nasal tumours

Tumours are the second most common cause of long term nasal disease. There are several types of tumours, but 50% are lymphoma. Adenocarcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas and fibrosarcomas make up most of the rest. More research is needed to explain how cats get nasal lymphoma. Exposure to tobacco smoke is implicated but evidence is lacking. Cats may sneeze, have noisy breathing, a snotty nasal discharge that can be bloody, and have nasal swelling. Vets may make a tentative diagnosis using signs alone but a biopsy is ideal. CT, MRI  and ultrasound scans are useful for detecting the extent and spread of disease but not always possible. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy can be used for nasal lymphoma but are not always possible. Cats with treatment can survive an average of 12-30 months as it is often a localised disease.  

Nasal foreign body

Although more common in dogs, we occasionally see grass seeds or blades of grass lodged after attempted vomiting. Symptoms include sneezing and one-sided nasal discharge. Diagnosis and treatment is often by flushing the nose under anaesthetic, although some cases may be more complicated.  

Fungal infections

Dogs are more prone to inhaling fungal organisms. This is rare in cats. Signs may be very similar to other conditions so examination under anaesthesia is often needed and samples taken for culture if suspicion arises. Fungal infections can be challenging to treat and require specialist care, although some respond to antifungals.  

Polyps

Occasionally polyps (inflammatory swellings) can occur within the nasal cavity. Most come from the middle ear or eustachian tube (connects the nose to the middle ear) and grow into the back of the nasal passage (nasopharynx) causing sneezing, noisy breathing and nasal discharge. Surgical removal can be attempted but it may be hard to remove all tissue, so regrowth is possible and more specialist and complex surgery may be needed.  

Dental disease

Disease of a tooth root may affect the nasal cavity causing sneezing and often other signs such as nasal discharge. Dental radiography to check tooth roots is ideal, followed by removal of any diseased teeth.  

Allergies

These are a common cause of sneezing in humans. It’s an uncommon cause in cats. Persian cats that are extremely flat-faced may sneeze more due to their facial conformation which can be ‘normal’ for them.   Your vet may ask you questions in an attempt to hone in on the cause of your cat’s sneezing. Thinking about these in advance may help:
  • Did the clinical signs start suddenly or gradually?
  • Has the sneezing been getting progressively worse?
  • Is there ever a discharge from the nose or eyes? Is this one-sided or both sides?
  • Is this discharge clear, watery, mucus or pus?
  • Is there any blood present in the discharge (may be a sign of more severe disease such as fungal infection/neoplasia)?
  • Is there any facial swelling and change to the conformation of the face or nose (may be a sign of more severe disease such as fungal infection/neoplasia)?
  • Is there any evidence of involvement of the ears (sometimes seen with inflammatory polyps in particular)?
  • Has there been a change in appetite or weight?
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Why is my dog eating grass?

Dogs may eat grass for a variety of reasons. For many dogs it’s considered entirely normal for them to eat a small amount of grass - in fact around 70% of dogs were found to eat grass in one study, and it was also found to be much more common in younger dogs. Some dogs, however, take grass-eating to an extreme and this could be a hint of something wrong.
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The sinister side of spring flowers

Springtime is a welcome sight for most Brits. We can put the winter behind us and it brings warmth and colour back into our gardens and homes. It’s also mostly good news for our pets as they’re hopefully able to enjoy more quality time outdoors. Many owners are aware of the dangers of spring treats such as chocolate easter eggs, or raisin filled hot cross buns, but dangers lurking in the form of plants and flowers are often unrecognised. We spend 2 billion pounds a year on cut flowers and indoor plants, with Mothering Sunday and Easter being at the pinnacle and the heart of spring. While lots of plants and flowers are safe, it’s important to be aware of those that are not.
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Announcing our All-New Symptom Checker and Poisons Guide!

If your pet were to be ill, would you know how serious it was? Do you know whether they’d need a vet NOW or if it could wait till tomorrow - or even if it was something you could deal with by yourself? While you could of course phone your vet - all vets have arrangements for the care of their patients outside normal opening hours, and they’ll almost always give free telephone advice - you might not want to bother them. So what many animal owners do, is to go online… but of course, how do you know you can trust what you find? Dr Google is rather likely to give you 10 different answers!   This was why we created our original Symptom Checker. The aim was to provide a reliable, accurate resource that would let you, the owner, check your own animals’ symptoms and see what you needed to do. Did you need to call the vet? Was there any first aid you could do? Could this be managed at home? The aim was to give you that information at your fingertips. So, we assembled a huge team of vets, many of them RCVS Specialists in their respective fields, and built it. And it has proven hugely popular!
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What’s the link between frosted grass and laminitis?

Winter is well and truly here and scraping the frost off my windscreen the other morning reminded me of a common question from my clients at this time of the year; that is whether or not frosty grass is more likely to cause laminitis. There are many misconceptions about laminitis, the commonest being that lush pasture is the primary cause. The reality is that this is incorrect and I have seen many cases occur in horses and ponies grazing barer paddocks, both in summer and winter. In fact, studies have shown there’s an approximately four times higher risk of laminitis in both the summer (June–August) and winter (December–February) months compared to the lusher growth months of spring (March–May).
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