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When to take a sneezing cat to the vet

sneezing cat sneezing herpes indianapolis vet

Cats sneeze a lot. 99% of the time, when your cat randomly sneezes, it’s because they got a bit of fluff up their nose, just like when you or I sneeze. It’s not a big deal.

Unless, of course, the sneezing is repetetive, has a sudden onset, and is associated with other symptoms like nasal or eye discharge (either clear or colored).

Love Is Fleeting, but Herpes is Forever – the Chronic Recurring Sneezing Cat

Cats get Herpes, just like humans do. Not the exact SAME Herpes, mind you – you can’t get Herpes from your cat. Nevertheless, cat Herpes behaves in many ways similar to human Herpes. For instance:

a) A cat exposed to Herpes once, has Herpes forever.
b) Vaccines protecting against Herpes do exist, but are often administered too late since Herpes can be transmitted in the womb.
c) Herpes may also be transmitted between sneezing cats.


Like a train carrying a stowaway, your cat might be carrying Herpes around her whole life, sneezing it all over every cat she meets. No big deal most of the time, since your sneezing cat is snotting on grownup cats who already have Herpes in their system.

When we get into trouble, however, is when a STRESS – be it physical or emotional (you know how emotional cats can get!) strikes your favorite feline. You go out of town for a few days, the neighbor comes in to take care of Fluffy, and next thing you know, she’s sneezing boogers all over your face. Yuck!


Because the stress compromised her immune system, temporarily shutting down her normal defenses. The Herpes virus that had lain dormant in her system since she originally came in contact with the disease suddenly leaps to action, making your cat sick.

When Should I Take My Sneezing Cat To The Vet?

Herpes in adult, fully immunized cats usually presents as a mild case of sneezing with runny nose and runny eyes. It’s no big deal, and in fact, if there is no colored eye discharge or colored nose boogers, and they’re eating and drinking and pooping and peeing, and your sneezing cat is otherwise and acting mostly normal, we don’t treat them at all.

On the other hand, if your sneezing cat has a compromised immune system, or is feeling physical or emotional stress, the Herpes outbreak may be more severe. Consider taking your cat to the vet if:

a) Clear eye discharge turns into yellow green eye boogers with squinting and redness
b) Clear nose discharge turns into yellow green nose boogers
c) Nasal congestion causes a drop in appetite (cats won’t eat if they can’t smell their food)
d) Other symptoms develop that may suggest pneumonia – coughing, lethargy, fever
e) Other symptoms develop that may suggest sinusitis – lethargy, fever, headache – cat is scrunched up in a little ball with her head in her paws, not socializing
f) Dehydration develops – refer to our blog post (not yet written!) on how to tell if your cat is dehydrated.

In the meantime, there are a few things you can do to help your poor sneezing cat breathe better, while the immune system does its job:

1) Clean your house thoroughly to minimize airborne irritants like dust or perfumes.
2) Change to a low-dust cat litter – bigger granules don’t clump as well, but they give off less dust.
3) Add moisture to the air, with a vaporizer, steam from a hot shower, or boiling kettle of water.
4) Apply saline nose drops to help thin mucus in the nasal passages and relieve irritation that may cause sneezing.

As always, if you are in ANY DOUBT as to whether or not your sneezing cat needs antibiotics, call our indianapolis veterinary clinic Leo’s Pet Care at 317-721-7387 to schedule an appointment!

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Reading this has made me feel so much better!
    We recently adopted a 4yr cat from the shelter, and he has been with us for two weeks now. His first night, he investigated every square inch of our apartment – so when he sneezed I assumed it’s because he just sniffed up all that dust. The sneezing continued. I’ve had pets my whole 30 years of life (but he is the first pet I’ve had since moving out on my own, who is my TOTAL responsibility), so I’ve been checking to make sure his eyes are clear, nose is clear, he’s alert, still likes to play, eats all his food, drinks his water. I did take him to a vet a couple days after adoption – the SPCA & vets in the city give a free second opinion check up. I mentioned the sneezing to the vet who said his lungs were clear.
    But his sneezing was still a concern, so in the last couple days we’ve bought a new vacuum, cleaned and dusted the place top to bottom and bought hypoallergenic air filters for the furnace.
    Your post was comforting. He shows none of the signs that suggests we should take him to the vet, and he has only been with us for 2 weeks! I wouldn’t be surprised if he was stressed. He has settled in quite quickly, refuses the cat bed and sleeps on the sofa, has claimed a window sill, sleeps at the foot of our bed. Maybe he’s just not used to our schedule yet. Especially the crazy Christmas one.
    I know I just spilled my life story, but now I can stop googling and relax (but still keep a motherly watch on the guy)
    Thanks…. and I will be bookmarking your blog.
    ”New Mom” Vancouver, BC

    1. Thanks for posting this, I’m in the exact same position (new pet on my own) and he’s sneezing like crazy with no other issues! This post made me feel a lot better about his health. Plus our apartment is a little dusty, but I have a feeling it’s his litter as well. Thanks!

  2. My adopted, adult cat has been with us for just about two years now. We adopted him and his brother, and found out very quickly- after a trip to the vet with all the snot you could imagine coming from a cat- that he and his brother had been exposed to the herpes virus. The vet assured us that it was common among shelter cats, and it was nothing to be actively worried about, unless the symptoms got crazy, as you mentioned. This week, one of the brothers has been having regular sneezing fits — but without any eye discharge, and only slight, clear, watery nasal discharge. His breathing is not impaired, and while he is slightly more lethargic than normal, he is eating and drinking normally and doesn’t seem to have a fever or any other symptoms. Thanks to your post – I am vacuuming and dusting and no longer worried about his sneezing and rushing him off to the vet – just yet. My concern is that we recently (about 2 months ago) adopted two more kittens from the local shelter. They are 5-6mos. old and fully vaccinated and seem to have integrated seemlessly into our home. They have had no health issues up until now (though were dewormed several times in the shelter until their poo came up clear). Do I need to be concerned about them mingling together while the older cat is all sneezy?

    1. Yes and no. I mean, if they don’t already have Herpes, they’ll get it now. And probably fight it off like most cats, and be fine. Separation of house cats is almost impossible, so… unless you can rehome them until Sneezy gets better, just watch for symptoms of secondary bacterial infection.

  3. Great blog and very helpful – thank you! Our stray kitten who we took in at just a couple of weeks old (a year ago) has had reddish brown eye discharge since a baby. Doc says its something she will always live with; however, I am concerned for the “old lady” in the house. She is 18 – in good health for her age but comes in contact with the kitten regularly and sometimes tried to baby her. Should we be taking any action other than the obvious – trying to keep the babying to a minimum?

  4. Thank you for this post! Our 15 yo neutered male Siamese just began doing machine gun sneezes the other night. He’s not doing them as often or long, but he’s still doing them at night. No discharge, no fever and he’s eating, drinking and pooping like normal. He’s still playing, purring and head-butting us as well. We’ll use some spray saline and will keep an eye out for dust bunnies. 🙂

  5. Thank you for this post! Our 15 yo neutered male Siamese just began doing machine gun sneezes the other night. He’s not doing them as often or long, but he’s still doing them at night. No discharge, no fever and he’s eating, drinking and pooping like normal. He’s still playing, purring and head-butting us as well. We’ll use some spray saline and will keep an eye out for dust bunnies. 🙂

  6. I rescued pregnant MaMa cat almost 2 years ago (I did not want another cat, I had just put my 19 year old cat to sleep a year before, I live in a part of Los Angeles where it is busy, children, cars, trucks, people and you rarely see cats. This cat came running up to me and I noticed she was pregnant and my heart broke in a million pieces she had 6 kittens within 6 hours. I kept her and MiMi, last week MaMa cat was sneezing and now MiMi has been sneezing for about 3 or 4 days and is not herself, I am so worried I am staying home today to see if she will drink water… It’s just rough on me cause I live on a fixed income (I now have a p/t job so it will get better), I will be 61 on 2/13 but if she is not getting better or at least drinking water I should take her to Vet (which is extremely expensive in L.A, I have no car but I will do whatever I have to do, I am so sad. I will stay home for next 24 hours and see. This blog helped me thanks.

  7. I rescued a mommy cat about 8 weeks ago, she was sneezing and the vet treated her for a upper respiratory infection. She is kept in a room by herself with her two kittens who are now sneezing a little to. But I also have an older cat that is mine who has neve been neear her and he is sneezing now. Should I be concerned?

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