The Mysterious Cat Sneezes: Unraveling 13 Possible Causes

Updated: July 21, 2023


Isn’t it just the cutest little sound? The endearing sight of a cat’s face scrunching up, followed by a tiny “pffft” as it sneezes. Most of the time, there’s no need for concern; it’s likely just a reaction to something in the air. Just like humans and dogs, cats sneeze too, and it’s perfectly normal.

When cats explore their new surroundings, they, like their canine counterparts, rely heavily on their sense of smell. As they sniff around, they inhale dust, hair, and tiny particles into their delicate nasal passages. Occasionally, these particles might cause minor irritations or simply tickle their noses, leading to those adorable sneezes. But fear not, this is a sign that your feline friend’s respiratory system is functioning as it should.

Sneezing sporadically is to be expected, but if you start noticing your cat sneezing frequently with mucus, blood, or eye discharge, it could be an indication of a more serious underlying issue. While it could be something as benign as a common irritant, it might also signal a more significant health problem that requires immediate attention.

Main Reasons Why Cats Sneeze

Sneezing in cats can often be attributed to simple factors like unexpected excitement or sudden movements, which lead them to take a fast breath. In other cases, a tiny irritant such as dust, lint, or hair may tickle their sensitive nose, causing a sneeze. These occasional sneezes are typically harmless and nothing to worry about.

However, if your cat sneezes frequently, it’s crucial to be aware of other potential reasons behind this behavior. Frequent sneezing might indicate an underlying health issue that requires attention. While some reasons could still be benign, being vigilant about your cat’s sneezing frequency and any accompanying symptoms is essential to ensure their well-being. Seeking the advice of a veterinarian can help identify the root cause and provide appropriate care for your feline companion. Remember, monitoring your cat’s health and addressing any unusual patterns promptly will contribute to their overall happiness and quality of life.

Common Household Irritants

Just like humans, cats can also be sensitive to certain irritants that might trigger sneezing. It’s essential to be aware that the same things that cause us to sneeze can also irritate your feline friend’s delicate nose. Some common culprits include:

  1. Cooking spices like pepper: The strong aroma and particles of certain spices, such as pepper, can irritate a cat’s nasal passages and lead to sneezing.

  2. Vinegar: The pungent scent of vinegar may be overwhelming for cats, causing them to sneeze as a reaction to the potent smell.

  3. Bleach: The fumes from bleach and other strong cleaning agents can be harsh on a cat’s sensitive respiratory system, resulting in sneezing or coughing.

  4. Common cleaning products: Various household cleaning products contain chemicals and scents that can be bothersome to cats and prompt sneezing.

If you notice your cat sneezing after exposure to any of these substances, it’s advisable to keep them away from such irritants. Additionally, make sure to provide good ventilation in your living space and use pet-safe cleaning products to minimize any potential risks.

Common Household Irritants

1. Cigarette Smoke: If you’re a smoker and notice your cat frequently sneezing, it’s essential to consider the impact of cigarette smoke on your feline companion. Restricting smoking to the outdoors can significantly reduce your cat’s exposure to second-hand smoke, which can be harmful to both humans and pets.

2. Foreign Irritants: Cats that venture outside may encounter various foreign irritants, such as small blades of grass or pollen, which can easily lodge in their nasal passages while breathing. Just like humans, cats can also be sensitive to pollen, leading to sneezing, especially during allergy seasons.

If your cat’s sneezing persists and the irritant doesn’t seem to clear, it’s crucial to seek veterinary advice to address the issue.

3. The Common Cold: Cats, like humans, can catch a common cold. If your feline friend displays a few sneezes, a runny nose, and watery eyes, she may simply have a cold, particularly during cold and flu season. Usually, these symptoms will resolve on their own as long as your cat continues to eat, drink, and remain active.

However, if you notice a loss of appetite or reduced water intake in your cat, it could be an indication of something more serious. In such cases, it’s essential to visit the veterinarian promptly to prevent dehydration or worsening of the condition. Timely medical attention can ensure your cat’s well-being and swift recovery.

Respiratory or Viral Infections

Typically, cats do not suffer from allergies that result in excessive sneezing. Instead, such persistent sneezing is often an indication of an infection. If you notice your cat sneezing frequently, it’s advisable to consult your veterinarian to determine if your feline friend has any upper respiratory ailments.

Viral infections can also affect cats, similar to humans. Conditions such as cat flu, rabies, ringworm, toxoplasmosis, or even herpes can lead to sneezing as one of the symptoms. These infections should be taken seriously, and seeking veterinary attention is crucial to diagnose and manage the specific ailment your cat might be facing. Early detection and appropriate treatment can significantly improve the chances of your cat’s recovery and well-being.

1. Reaction to Intranasal Vaccine:
After a visit to the veterinarian for an upper respiratory infection vaccination, it’s not uncommon for your cat to experience some sneezing for a few days as a reaction to the vaccine. This reaction is generally mild and should resolve on its own within a short period. However, if the sneezing persists beyond a few days and is accompanied by any other concerning symptoms, it’s advisable to contact the vet for a follow-up evaluation.

2. Dental Problems:
In older cats, sneezing with nasal discharge may indicate underlying dental issues. Dental diseases, such as infections in the teeth, gum disease, or tooth abscesses, can cause bacteria to spread from the infected tooth to the cat’s nasal cavity, leading to sneezing.

If you observe such symptoms, it’s crucial to address the dental problem promptly. Untreated dental infections can pose a risk to your cat’s overall health, and early intervention is essential to prevent further complications.

Frequent, Ongoing Sneezing

1. Cat Flu or Influenza: Frequent and continual sneezing in cats could be an indication of a more serious underlying condition, such as cat flu or influenza. Just like humans, felines can contract these viral infections, and if you observe your cat displaying more severe symptoms beyond sneezing, it’s crucial to contact your veterinarian immediately. Some concerning symptoms may include coughing, loss of appetite, runny eyes and nose, lethargy, fever, and difficulty breathing. Early detection and proper medical care are essential to manage these illnesses effectively and ensure your cat’s well-being.

2. Exposure to Essential Oils Toxic to Felines: Essential oils that may cause sneezing in humans can pose a far more significant danger to cats. Inhaling certain essential oils can be extremely toxic to a cat’s liver due to the lack of essential enzymes necessary for metabolizing these compounds. Even just the scent of these oils can lead to seizures or fatal liver diseases in cats.

To keep your feline friend safe, it’s crucial to be cautious with essential oils and avoid using the following toxic oils in a home where cats are present:

  • Peppermint and wintergreen oils
  • Lemon and other citrus oils
  • Eucalyptus oil
  • Pine and sweet birch oils
  • Cinnamon and clove oils
  • Pennyroyal oil
  • Tea tree or melaleuca oil
  • Ylang ylang oil

Before introducing a cat into your home, thoroughly review your essential oil collection and discard any of the toxic oils. Ensuring a safe environment free from harmful substances is vital for your cat’s health and well-being.

Common Household Plants Toxic to Cats

Many common household plants can be toxic to cats, posing serious health risks if they come into contact with them. Plant toxicity can lead to kidney or heart damage, which may even prove fatal for felines.

To ensure your cat’s safety, it’s essential to be aware of the following toxic plants and consider keeping your cat indoors if you have these plants growing outdoors:

  1. Azaleas and Rhododendrons
  2. Chrysanthemum, Daisy, Mum
  3. Daffodils, Narcissus
  4. English Ivy
  5. Hyacinth
  6. Lily of the Valley
  7. Oleander
  8. Marijuana
  9. Tulips

Symptoms of Feline Toxicity:

If your cat comes into contact with these toxic plants, you may observe additional symptoms beyond sneezing, indicating potential toxicity. Be vigilant for the following signs:

  1. Difficulty breathing and swallowing
  2. Vomiting and diarrhea
  3. Excessive drinking and urination, indicating potential kidney issues due to toxicity

If you suspect that your cat has been exposed to any of these toxic plants and displays any concerning symptoms, seek immediate veterinary attention. Early detection and proper treatment are crucial in ensuring your cat’s well-being and recovery from potential plant toxicity. Keeping your home free of these toxic plants and creating a safe environment for your feline companion can prevent unfortunate incidents and contribute to their overall health and happiness.

Feline Leukemia

One of the most perilous reasons for cat sneezing is feline leukemia, a condition that compromises the feline immune system, leaving your cat vulnerable to asthma and cat flu.

If you observe any additional symptoms beyond those typically associated with cat flu, it is imperative to promptly schedule a comprehensive checkup with your veterinarian. Early detection and intervention can be crucial in managing feline leukemia and ensuring the best possible outcome for your beloved cat’s health.

Feline Bacterial Infections that are Harmful to Humans Too

You are absolutely right; it’s essential to be aware of the potential health risks that can be transmitted from sick and untreated cats to humans. Cats can carry certain infections and diseases that can be harmful to people if appropriate precautions are not taken. Here are some notable examples:

1. Ringworm (Fungal Infection): Ringworm is a fungal infection that can be transmitted from cats to humans through direct contact. It can cause circular, red, and itchy patches on the skin. While it’s not usually serious, it can be uncomfortable and requires proper treatment.

2. Roundworm (Intestinal Infection): Roundworm is an intestinal parasite commonly found in cats. If a person accidentally ingests the eggs of roundworms, it can lead to health issues. Proper hygiene and regular deworming of cats are essential to minimize the risk of transmission.

3. Toxoplasmosis: Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection that can be transmitted from cats to humans through contact with contaminated cat feces. While most healthy individuals may not experience severe symptoms, it can pose a significant risk to pregnant women and their unborn babies. Pregnant women should avoid cleaning litter boxes and handle cat feces with caution.

4. Cat-Scratch Fever (Bartonellosis): Bartonellosis, commonly known as cat-scratch fever, is an infectious disease caused by Bartonella bacteria. It can be transmitted to humans through cat scratches or bites. While it’s usually not life-threatening for healthy individuals, it can lead to serious complications in people with weakened immune systems.

If you have a sick cat, it’s crucial to handle them carefully, especially if they are not receiving veterinary treatment. Avoid being scratched or bitten and practice good hygiene, such as regular handwashing, to reduce the risk of transmission. Seeking prompt veterinary care for sick cats is essential not only for their well-being but also to minimize the potential health risks for humans.

A Healthy Cat is a Happy Cat

After your veterinarian has confirmed that your cat is free from infections or diseases, there are several steps you can take around your home to alleviate your cat’s sneezing:

1. Thoroughly Clean Your Home:
Engage in a deep “spring cleaning” to eliminate or minimize dust particles and other irritants from the air. Regularly dust and vacuum to keep the environment as clean as possible, which can help reduce your cat’s exposure to potential allergens.

2. Choose Low-Dust Kitty Litter:
If your cat is prone to sneezing, consider switching to low-dust kitty litter to minimize airborne particles. While it might not clump as effectively as other types, it will be better for your cat’s respiratory health and overall comfort.

3. Humidify Your Home:
Use a vaporizer or boil a pot of water to increase the humidity in your home. Dry nasal passages can contribute to sneezing, so adding moisture to the air can provide relief to your cat. Alternatively, letting a hot shower run can also create steam and help moisten the air.

4. Saline Nasal Drops:
If possible and with the guidance of your veterinarian, you can use saline nasal drops to moisturize your cat’s nasal passages gently. This can offer additional comfort and relief from any dryness.

Frequently Asked Question

Why is my cat sneezing frequently?

Frequent sneezing in cats can be triggered by various factors, including infections, allergies, irritants, or underlying health issues.

Could my cat have a cold like humans do?

Yes, cats can catch upper respiratory infections, often referred to as “cat flu,” which may cause sneezing, coughing, and other cold-like symptoms.

Can my cat’s sneezing be caused by allergies?

Yes, just like humans, cats can be allergic to certain substances like pollen, dust mites, or specific foods, leading to sneezing and other allergic reactions.

Should I be concerned if my cat’s sneezing is accompanied by nasal discharge?

Yes, nasal discharge in cats can be a sign of infection or other respiratory issues, and it’s crucial to consult a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Is it safe to use essential oils around my cat?

No, some essential oils, like peppermint, lemon, and eucalyptus, can be toxic to cats and may cause sneezing and other health problems. Avoid using such oils in homes with felines.

How can I help my sneezing cat at home?

Ensure a clean and low-dust environment, use a vaporizer to humidify the air, and consider saline nasal drops with veterinary guidance to moisturize your cat’s nasal passages.

Can cats transmit diseases to humans through sneezing?

Yes, certain diseases like toxoplasmosis and ringworm can be transmitted from cats to humans, emphasizing the importance of good hygiene and regular veterinary care.

When should I seek veterinary care for my sneezing cat?

If your cat’s sneezing persists, worsens, or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms like loss of appetite, lethargy, or difficulty breathing, it’s essential to consult a vet for a thorough evaluation and appropriate treatment.


Cat sneezing can be caused by a variety of factors, ranging from mild irritations to more serious health issues. While occasional sneezing is usually normal and harmless, frequent or persistent sneezing warrants attention and further investigation.

Some common reasons for cat sneezing include reactions to intranasal vaccines, exposure to irritants like dust or allergens, or even dental problems. It’s essential to monitor your cat’s overall health and seek veterinary advice if you notice any accompanying symptoms like nasal discharge, coughing, loss of appetite, or lethargy.

Additionally, it’s crucial to create a safe and clean environment for your feline friend by minimizing potential irritants, such as low-dust kitty litter and avoiding the use of toxic essential oils.

Michael R

Michael R

I'm a publisher and editor at Cat Guide 101. I imagine that since you’re here, you likely own a cat — or two! — so helping you better understand them is my aim. I'd like to invite you to check out our about page to learn more about the Cat Guide 101 story.

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