There are all sorts of reasons for sneezing kittens. A kitten sneeze in itself is perfectly harmless; it is when a kitten starts to sneeze all the time that there might be cause for concern. Your little kitten can't explain how he is feeling so you may have to do a bit of detective work to figure out why you have a sneezing kitten!
If you kitten is sneezing continually or has sneezing accompanied by nasal discharge or problems breathing - this may be a sign that something more than an isolated mild sneeze is going on.
Problems are considered primary and secondary. Primary problems such as injury, congenital issues, periodontal disease (gums and teeth), polyps and foreign bodies can all cause secondary issues such as infection.
Persistent problems that don't go away could start to cause secondary issues such as bacterial infections and physical problems in the sinuses. In these cases surgical therapy may be needed where other forms of therapy fail.
In addition to sneezing a veterinarian will evaluate the following symptoms. Having a combination of symptoms can indicate the nature of the problem.
- Nasal Discharge
- Loud breathing
- Difficulty breathing
- Open mouth breathing
- Face pawing
- Facial pain
- One side of the face looking different than the other (facial asymmetry)
- Bad odor near the head
Causes of Feline Sneezing
The first thing a veterinarian will do in addition to a clinical examination is to determine if the cause is due to a viral or non-viral cause. The Vet will want to know when symptoms started, how long they have lasted and the sneezing frequency. Also note if nasal discharge occurs throughout the day, at night (may indicate bronchitis), if it is seasonal and whether it occurs on one side or both sides of the nose.
The Vet will also note how breathing changes when meowing or when exercising. They would also like to know if symptoms get worse in the evening vs. earlier in the day.
Just like you might have allergies, your kitten can get allergies too. The veterinarian would want to know if symptoms started with the change of seasons, a sign that problems such as pollen are the cause. Seasonal changes can also indicate the presence of some type of irritant in the air.
Some of the things your kitten may be allergic to might cause her to sneeze. Some of the possible things your little kitten may be allergic too are:
Upper Respiratory Infections (Feline Chronic Rhinosinusitis)
This means infections to do with the nose, mouth and sinuses. These can be highly infectious with infected cats passing it on to other members of the feline family. URI are caused by viruses, bacteria and fungi. This is a common cause of death in kittens, who are predisposed because of their immature immune systems.
If you suspect your kitten has a URI you will also notice she has a fever, wet nose, coughing, watery eyes and she will be lethargic. Your kitten may also have swollen glands and eyes, have difficulty breathing and produce mucus as well.
The veterinarian will check the nose for inflammation of the mucous membranes. If sneezing and nasal congestion continues for a long period of time it could indicate an immune system problem.
Persians are predisposed to upper respiratory infection due to the flatter face.
Causes of Acute Infectious Upper Respiratory Tract Disease in Kittens (AIURTD)
Over 90% of acute upper respiratory infections in kittens is caused by feline calicivirus (FCV) and feline herpes virus (FHV-1). Even after symptoms go away, the FHV-1 can be reactivated later in life when the cat encounters disease, stress or receives corticosteroids (steroids).
- Feline herpesvirus (FHV-1): may cause viral redness (dermatitis) in the nose. It can cause absorption of the bones in the nose (turbinate resorption) which can trigger secondary problems such as bacterial infections.
- Feline calicivirus (FCV): calciviral ulcers are found on the lips or nasal surface. Can be accompanied by shedding. There is a form of calicivirus called Hemorrhagic Calicivirus which is particularly virulent. It is very contagious and quickly can result in death. There is a vaccine available called Calicivax.
- Chalmydophila felis (primarily affects the eyes): not common and tends to cause conjunctivitis.
- Bordetella bronchisceptica (can be prevented with vaccination)
- Secondary opportunist bacteria
- Mycoplasma of dubious significance
- Fungal infections (aspergillosis)
- FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus)
Kitten URI Diagnosis
A kitten upper respiratory disease is diagnosed after observing symptoms such as:
- anorexia (weight loss)
- Excess saliva (ptyalism)
- Acting tired
- Thick or watery nasal discharge
These symptoms accompanied by kitten oral ulcers (mouth, lips, nose) indicate the presence of FCV infection.
Kitten pneumonia can be associated with an URI but is rare.
Care for a kitten upper respiratory infection usually involves addressing any symptoms. this includes keeping the nose clear, helping the kitten remain hydrated and improving nutrition. If a kitten is dehydrated, then the cat will receive liquids either subcutaneous or intravenous.
Kittens often respond well to antibiotics for bacterial infections that are contracted in addition to the primary viral infection. Liquid antibiotics with few side effects that are used in kittens include cefalexin, Clavamox® or amoxicillin.
If the bacterial infections are Chlamydophila or Mycoplasma, the antibiotics Doxycycline or chloramphenicol are used, however these can have side effects such as anorexia (appetite loss) and fever.
If the sneezing and other symptoms reoccur, it could indicate that bacterial infection was only one of the causes. Antibiotics are used for 6 to 8 weeks if there is some type of initial response. This also demonstrates that the kitten is tolerating the antibiotic well.
In cases of longer term sneezing and nasal discharge, antibiotics are used to control infections. If the kitten responds well, the therapy is continued for weeks or months. If the kitten is very congested, the nose can be flushed under anesthesia.
Free Brochure on Upper Respiratory Infections in Kittens
Polyps and Foreign Objects Stuck in Kittens Respiratory Area
Not very common in kittens, but still a possibility. Your kitten may have swallowed a small object which has gotten stuck in her respiratory tract. Check your kittens throat with a flashlight and use tweezers to extract the object. If you don't successfully remove the object stuck, take your kitty to the vet for an examination.
The foreign object can trigger other problems such as bacterial infections.
If polyps or foreign bodies are found, they should be removed by the veterinarian.
Teeth Infections and Tumors
These are not very likely in a young kitten. If your kitty is suffering from tooth decay other signs you will notice are bad breath, swollen gums and possibly puss in the mouth area. Check for tooth decay and abscesses. Take her to your veterinarian for official diagnosis and a treatment plan.
Reactions to Medications
Note if you have changed your kittens routine or provided any new treatments. This can include vaccinations or something as routine as a flea preventative. Anything new can trigger an allergic or other reaction.
The veterinarian will do the following during the clinical examination of your sneezing kitten:
- Check the face and if both sides look the same or is one side swollen
- Check for pain or discomfort
- Evaluation of the teeth for periodontal disease
- Check the mouth for any masses
- Look for tonsil swelling
- Check the lymph nodes near the head to determine if they are involved in any disease (a factor in neoplasia - tumor, or a fungal infection.)
- The eyes will be checked to determine if there is ocular retropulsion which means the globe of the eye is pressed deeper into the skull.
When being examined, the kitten may or may not have nasal discharge. If the nose is blocked by a polyp or neoplasia, then you see less discharge due to the blockage. Conversely, if there is a greater than expected amount of air coming from the nose, issues such as aspergillosis (fungal infection) and chronic rhinitis (sinusitis) could be the problem.
A device called an endoscope is sometimes used to see the nose. An alternative can sometimes be used where a dental mirror placed behind the soft palate provides a view of what is going on.
The veterinarian will conduct a series of tests to try and narrow down the cause (s) of the problem. This includes a blood test, urinalysis. If needed the nasal passages will be examined with a rhinoscopy. During rhinoscopy a biopsy or sample might be taken for further testing.
It may be necessary to take an X-Ray or MRI to examine the nasal passages and sinuses. Anesthesia is necessary when taking images.
Course of Action When Faced With a Chronically Sneezing Kitten
Say it with me... take her to the veterinarian! This particularly true if you see symptoms such as:
- Appetite loss
- Open mouth breathing and an open mouth
More chronic of sever cases include kittens that may stop drinking or eating. Get help immediately !
If a kitten has been sneezing a lot for several days and you have not figured out the cause - it is time for kitty to visit the vets office so she can get better.
A kitten could benefit from maintaining hydration to make any discharge more liquid (viscous). Hydration also helps with cell function. It can also help to use a humidifier or placing the kitten in a bathroom that has steam. Stay with your kitten to avoid any risk of drowning and monitor the kitten since heat can be harmful if the kitten is dehydrated. Using saline in the nostrils can help to clear the nose.
Oral decongestants can also be recommended by the veterinarian.
Last the veterinarian could prescribe an anti-inflammatory such as glucocorticoids such as prednisolone daily for a week.
For many cats where nasal inflammation is the cause, the problem may not be able to be cured. The goal in these cases would be to manage the problem and reduce the impact of any symptoms such as nasal discharge or kitten sneezing.
Where To Next?
How I Treat The Chronic Feline Snuffler
by Margie Scherk, DMV, DABVP
Vancouver, BC, Canada