Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no. If your cat sneezes once in a while, this can be normal just like when a person sneezes once in a while. However, if your cat is sneezing multiple times in a row, and you’re seeing any type of nasal discharge or ‘snot’ accompanying this, that could be a concern.
Bacterial infections, viral infections, allergies, household irritants or, in very rare cases, parasites can cause your cat to sneeze. Start by considering if anything has changed in your home environment. Did you get any new plants? Are you using a new air freshener or cleaning product? Is it extra dusty due to home renovations? If any of these fit your situation, then you have a logical starting point to consider. It’s also possible that cats could develop an intolerance to a previously tolerated scent or product, so you can’t fully rule this out even if nothing has changed, but it becomes less likely. If the sneezing only occurs at certain times of the year, allergies would be a consideration. Allergies to pollen are possible if the windows are left open in the spring, or to dust mites when the furnace starts up in the winter, for example.
If you have most likely ruled out changes in the home, it’s time to consider an infection, or more specifically an upper respiratory tract infection. Along with the sneezing, does your cat have eye discharge? Has his appetite decreased? Is she sniffling? Does her meow sound raspy? If this is the case, it is time to call your veterinarian to have your cat examined. Along with gathering valuable information from your observations of your cat’s sneezing and general behaviour, your vet will check your cat’s temperature to see if she is running a fever and examine your cat’s gums.
Your veterinarian may suggest a test for respiratory infections called a PCR test. A long swab is used to rub the back of your cat’s throat and also under the eyelid. From this swab, a diagnostic laboratory can confirm the presence or absence of certain bacteria and viruses. The two viruses that most commonly cause upper respiratory tract infections are herpesvirus and calicivirus.
Cats who test positive for herpesvirus or calicivirus were most likely infected as kittens. Shelter situations or breeding catteries that have multiple cats carry a higher risk of spreading infection. While cats positive for calicivirus will initially be contagious to other cats for up to several months, cats positive for herpesvirus can have multiple flare ups throughout their lives in times of stress during which they are contagious to other cats. Many owners choose to have the PCR diagnostic test done for this reason. Although there is no cure for herpesvirus, with this confirmation comes the knowledge that you will need to try to keep stress at a minimum for your cat and that they likely will experience flare ups in the future that may require veterinary treatment.
Upper respiratory tract infections are treated in different ways depending on their severity. Because viruses cannot be cured by antibiotics, these are not always an essential part of treatment. However, bacterial infections can occur on top of viral infections when your cat’s immune system is under strain. Cats who are positive for herpesvirus or calicivirus are therefore more susceptible to bacterial infections and may require antibiotics as part of their treatment plan. If they are heavily congested and not eating or drinking, some cats require the support of either intravenous fluids or subcutaneous fluids (fluids placed under the skin) for hydration. If your cat’s appetite has decreased, it is likely because their sense of smell is affected, which can cause them to lose interest in food. Sometimes some warmed up wet food will pique their interest as it has a stronger smell than dry food.
These viruses are not life threatening, and most infected cats live a full and fairly normal life. They may require some extra care from time to time, and a few more trips to the vet than your average cat. If you have a cat that you suspect may have a virus affecting their respiratory tract, it is important to talk to your vet before adopting a new cat, especially one of unknown vaccination status.