Why is my cat constantly sneezing?
One of the more common medical conditions we are presented with in feline medicine is a cat with upper respiratory symptoms, including sneezing, feline eye and nose discharge, as well as cats having difficulty breathing because of obstruction of the airways, and in some cases lower appetite. Many possible causes include allergies, viral and/or bacterial infections, as well as nasopharyngeal polyps seen in younger cats, and nasal tumors seen more typically in older cats.
By far the most common cause is feline rhinotracheitis virus, a herpes virus unique to felines that is seen most frequently in cats from shelters, catteries, or pet stores, or in cats with immune systems that are under stress by living under crowded or outdoor conditions. As with other herpes viruses, cats can often remain carriers of these herpes viruses for life, which can later become activated sometimes years later because of emotional or physical stress. As with people, antibiotics are not effective in treating such viruses, and other supportive measures are often needed.
Placing the cat in a humidified environment such as a bathroom with a hot steamy shower running, or in a crate with a humidifier blowing into it, are ways to help loosen thick mucous and nasal secretions. I have also found that saline nose drops following a 10-15 minute stay in a humidified environment can encourage sneezing/coughing and needed expectoration of mucous and discharge so that our felines can breathe more easily.
Immune boosters like Vetri-DMG can help strengthen antibody production and immune system function when used in infected felines. Extra vitamin C in the form of Ester C at a dose of 250 to 500 mg once to twice daily, as well as pediatric Echinacea and Goldenseal from a health food store can help as well. There are newer products containing L-lysine such as Vetri-Lysine Soft Chews from Vetri-Science that can help reduce symptoms. If symptoms become more severe or your pet stops eating, then an immediate veterinary exam is needed, as well as the possibility of prescription antibiotics such as Baytril, Clavamox or Amoxicillin to prevent secondary bacterial infections.
In case allergies are involved, I will often recommend the antihistamine Chlorpheniramine at dose of 2 mg twice daily to most cats, which can help decrease allergic congestion and inflammation. In my opinion, the injectable form of the vaccination for feline rhinotracheitis virus (feline herpes virus) and feline calicivirus (another viral cause of upper respiratory symptoms in cats) does not work very well in preventing infection. And in my experience, I see just as many symptomatic feline herpes/rhinotracheitis-infected vaccinated cats as unvaccinated cats.
The best prevention in my opinion is feeding an all natural diet such as Pet Guard or Wysong, as well as even considering a proper home made diet for cats, in addition to the above supplements in helping cats with chronic and/or frustrating upper respiratory symptoms.