By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 5 December 2010)
Pets sneeze for the same reasons as people – inflammation of the membranes lining their noses or foreign objects irritating the nostrils. Sneezing and nasal discharge (runny nose) may be caused by:
- Bleeding disorders
- Congenital problems (i.e., cleft palate)
- Inflammatory diseases
- Inhaled objects
- Insect bites or stings
- Irritants (i.e., cleaning products, perfumes, second-hand smoke, insect spray, etc.)
- Nasal mites
- Respiratory tract infections
How to Determine the Cause of Sneezing in Cats and Dogs
The following are some questions you can answer for your veterinarian to assist in making a diagnosis:
- Has your pet spent time at a boarding kennel, cattery, grooming salon, dog park, or animal shelter? Is your cat an outdoor cat? Contact with other animals increases the likelihood of infection.
- Is your pet elderly? Older pets are at greater risk of serious respiratory infections, nasal polyps, chronic dental disease, and tumours.
- Is your pet coughing? This suggests an infection or reaction to an irritant, such as cigarette smoke.
- Does your cat have a low-grade fever and/or eye infection? In cats, this is most commonly caused by Calicivirus or Rhinotrachetis (Herpes-1), though another infection may be the culprit.
- Does your pet sneeze after you’ve used cleaning products, perfumes, insect sprays, or deodorants; in mouldy environments; or when people are smoking? This suggests irritation or allergy.
- Do you use a silica-based cat litter? The silica dust can cause sneezing in some cats.
- Is the sneezing triggered by seasonal changes? This suggests a pollen allergy. Allergy-induced nasal discharge is normally clear, indicating that there is probably no infection. Additional symptoms may include watering eyes, excessive scratching, chewing on feet, and irritated skin.
- Does your pet show signs of a dental infection, such as difficulty eating, pawing at the mouth, foul breath, or brown plaque build-up? Teeth with deep roots can affect nasal passages when they become infected.
- Is your pet a flat-faced breed? Persian and Himalayan cats and flat-faced dogs such as Pugs, Bulldogs, Pekingese, Llasa Apsos, Shih Tzus, and others have compressed nasal passages and so are more likely to suffer sneezing fits due to irritation or infection.
- Does your cat or dog sneeze many times in a row (8 or more)? This suggests an attempt to dislodge an object. Many cats and dogs inadvertently inhale blades of grass, dust, seedpods, Christmas tinsel, wood splinters, or other small objects. Usually they eventually dislodge these objects by sneezing, but if the object won’t budge, a veterinarian will need to remove it.
- If your pet has nasal discharge, what colour is it? Clear discharge usually indicates a less serious problem, whereas green, yellow, or bloody discharge may indicate an infection or tumour (though irritation, injury, or dry air can also cause a bloody nose).
When to Consult a Veterinarian About Sneezing in Dogs and Cats
Sneezing is often not a cause for concern. Many animals will sneeze once or twice due to a minor irritation and be fine afterward, but you should consult a veterinarian if your pet has any of the following symptoms:
- Appetite loss
- Bleeding from the nose
- Continuous sneezing
- Excessive swallowing
- Foul breath
- Laboured, wheezy, or otherwise noisy breathing
- Lack of energy
- Pawing at the face or nose
- Swelling on the bridge of the nose
- Weight loss
- Yellow or green discharge from the nose or eyes
Treatments for Sneezing and Runny Nose in Cats and Dogs
Treatment varies depending on the cause of the sneezing and nasal discharge, though infections are the most common culprit. Bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics and fungal infections with antifungals, whereas in the case of viral infections, you can usually only treat the symptoms until the infection passes on its own.
In addition to any medications prescribed, keeping pets warm and quiet, increasing humidity to help clear the nasal passages, or administering a nasal decongestant may also be required. And because pets lose their sense of smell when congested, they can also lose their appetites, so force feeding may be necessary in some cases. Pets who become severely ill must be hospitalized where they may receive supplemental oxygen and fluid therapy, and fed via a stomach tube if they won’t eat.
As for other causes of sneezing, foreign objects can be manually removed, irritants or allergens eliminated from the home if possible, and corticosteroids or antihistamines prescribed to treat allergic reactions. Surgery may be required for polyps, and cancerous tumours may be treated with radiation, chemotherapy, or surgery.
Reverse Sneezing in Dogs and Cats
The reverse sneeze sounds as though a pet is snorting or huffing as air is sucked back into the nose rather than expelled. Reverse sneezing can be caused by many of the same conditions that trigger regular sneezing. Although it’s usually harmless, you should consult a veterinarian if there are additional symptoms of illness.
This article is not intended as a substitute for veterinary care and consultation. Medical concerns should be referred to a qualified veterinarian.
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