Reviewed and updated for accuracy on January 7, 2020, by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM
Almost anything that irritates or tickles a cat’s nose can trigger a sneeze, but if your cat or kitten sneezes a lot, you may start to worry that there's something wrong.
If sneezing is the only symptom your cat displays—i.e., no discharge from eyes or nose, good appetite, no change in behavior or activity level—then an allergy or contact with irritants like cigarette smoke or air fresheners may be to blame.
However, if your cat’s sneezing is accompanied by a runny nose and eyes, they might have an upper respiratory infection, aka a cat cold.
Here’s what you need to know about excessive sneezing and other cat cold symptoms.
Other Cat Cold Symptoms to Look For if Your Cat Is Sneezing
Some common symptoms of the infections that cause “cat colds” include:
Discharge from the eyes or nose (this may be watery or thick, and the color can be clear, white, yellow or green)
Excessive swallowing (if there is drainage into the back of the mouth and throat)
Loss of appetite
Raised third eyelid
Primary Causes of Colds in Cats
“Colds” in cats are usually caused by infection with certain types of viruses. Feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus are the most common.
In some cases, secondary bacterial infections can develop, which may lead to pneumonia.
Diagnosis of Cat Colds
If you suspect that your cat has a cold, you should always call your veterinarian and schedule an appointment. You want to know for sure that it’s a cold, because allergies, respiratory irritants, chronic infections, and benign or cancerous tumors can also cause cold-like symptoms in cats.
A thorough physical exam is usually sufficient to diagnose an upper respiratory infection.
If your cat does not respond to treatment as expected, then blood tests, X-rays, and other diagnostic tests may be necessary to determine the underlying cause(s) of a cat’s symptoms and plan more aggressive treatment.
Which Cats Are at Risk for Colds?
Upper respiratory infections can occur in any cat but are most common in kittens or under-vaccinated adult cats who have had contact with other cats. During stressful times, an older cat with underlying herpesvirus or calicivirus can also contract upper respiratory infections.
Can Your Cat Catch Your Cold?
But the viruses that cause colds in people are generally species-specific except under the rarest of circumstances. The viruses that make people sick with a cold are incapable of causing illness in cats.
So if you’re wondering if cats can catch colds from people, the answer is almost always “no.”
What Do Vets Prescribe for Cats With Colds?
If your cat has been diagnosed with a bacterial infection, your veterinarian will probably prescribe antibiotics. The viral infection, meanwhile, will usually be dealt with by the cat’s own immune system.
If your cat is not eating or is dehydrated, he may need to be hospitalized to receive fluid therapy, nutritional support, and other treatments until it is safe for him to come home to continue his recovery.
How to Care for a Cat With a Cold
Once your cat returns home, continue any medication or other therapies as directed by your veterinarian. Here are a few other things you can do to help your cat start to feel better:
Keep their eyes and nose free of discharge using a soft cloth or paper towel moistened with warm water. Using a vaporizer that produces warm moist air (or placing the cat in a steamy bathroom) will help the nasal passages and sinuses to drain, which can help alleviate some discomfort.
Make certain that your cat is eating. Cats who go without food for even a short period of time are at risk for developing hepatic lipidosis, a condition involving the liver that is potentially fatal. Offer warmed canned cat food or meat-based baby food to encourage your cat to eat.
Provide plenty of fresh water for drinking.
Do not give your cat any medication without consulting your vet, as many human medications are toxic to cats.
If your cat is not interested in food or has especially severe or worsening symptoms, take them back to the veterinarian. Cats who are infected with feline herpesvirus or calicivirus may have occasional recurrences of their symptoms.
Preventing Cat Colds
There are many viruses that can cause upper respiratory infections in cats. Fortunately, there are vaccines available for two of the most common: feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus.
Be sure your cat receives the initial series of injections followed by any boosters that are recommended by your veterinarian.
Featured Image: iStock.com/gilotyna