Cat Has Sneeze Attacks and Sprays Mucous

Ceaseless sneezing and sniffling in a cat could mean chronic sinusitis. Can (and should) it be cured?

By Arnold Plotnick, DVM

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Pixie Bob Cat Sneezing
Chronic cat conditions, like constant sneezing, could become so routine to a cat that he thinks it's normal.
Q: My 12-year-old cat, Buddy, has a constantly stuffed-up and runny nose. He sneezes regularly, sometimes having what I call sneeze attacks, where he sneezes repeatedly over and over and spraying mucous out of his nose. The mucous is sometimes orange, sometimes clear. My cat has been given Lysine chews, which he ate for a while and now won't touch. He has had antibiotics, which did nothing. His previous owner had him for the last 9 years and adopted him out of a shelter. She said that no vet she'd ever taken Buddy to could figure out his sinus problem. My vet didn't know why he would have this condition either.

He is perfectly healthy in every other respect, but the constant sniffling, runny nose and sneezing situation can't be pleasant for him.

A: It sounds like your cat has chronic sinusitis. This usually results from a severe prior respiratory infection. Many kittens get a viral respiratory infection from shelters, with the herpesvirus being the most likely culprit. The kitten recovers, but in severe cases the infection results in damage to the delicate turbinate bones in the nasal cavity. This compromises the ability of the respiratory immune system to fight off infection, and cats end up with chronic sinusitis

Read more about cat herpesvirus >>

No consistently effective treatment exists for this. During flare-ups, antibiotics may help reduce some of the clinical signs, but the cat will always have a low level of nasal discharge and congestion. Very severe flare-ups may respond to anti-inflammatory drugs like corticosteroids. Lysine is an amino acid that is often effective for recurrent flare-ups of herpesvirus infection, but this is not quite what is going on with your cat. Cats with recurrent herpesvirus flare-ups will go through periods where they are normal, and then a period where they have signs of an upper respiratory tract infection. 

Get tips on giving your cat medication here >>

Your cat doesn’t go through "normal” periods. Your cat always has a low level of snuffles and congestion. Lysine is less likely to help in these cases. Famciclovir is an anti-viral drug that might be worth a try. It works best for cases of recurrent herpesvirus infections, but I have had a few cases of chronic sinusitis that did respond to a month-long course of this drug. Be forewarned, however, that this drug is expensive. I wouldn’t worry about your cat too much, though. This constant congestion is the only life he’s ever known, so he probably doesn’t even realize that this is abnormal. To him, this is the way life is supposed to be. Chronic sinusitis has no effect on lifespan, so despite the sneezing and snuffling, Buddy will probably live a long, happy life. 

See more reasons for cat sneezing here >>


Read more articles by Arnold Plotnick, DVM, here>>

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Reader Comments

Lisa    Missoula, MT

7/17/2014 9:52:06 PM

Hi. THESE INFECTIONS SHOULD AND CAN BE BEAT. Our cat, Ella, is now 1 and had this problem since she was a kitten. She would sneeze constantly and sneeze up large yellow, brown mucus. We took her to the vet since she was a baby and went through several Lysine and antibiotic treatments. Finally, we saw a specialist. He said these cases should not go untreated. The viruses that can cause these symptoms can be very damaging to the sinuses. Sure enough, Ella had a sinus scope, and a good portion of her right sinus had been permanently damaged by the virus (hollowed out.) We put her on antivirals and strong antibiotics and the infections cleared up. Due to the damage, she may now be susceptible to bacterial infections for the rest of her life. If we would have caught it sooner and prevented the damage and got the virus in remission, we could have prevented the damage. Lesson: DO NOT LET THESE INFECTIONS PERSIST. GET THEM UNDER CONTROL. Take it from us. Our kitty is much better and your kitty can feel better too. P.S. The antiviral Ella was on is Interferon.

Cathy    La Crosse, WI

6/26/2014 4:40:41 AM

I think I am seeing a pattern here? Our cat Buddy has the same symptoms as those mentioned before. Buddy was a feral cat we rescued when he was still a kitten. (Though old enough that mom wasn't nursing him.)Many, though not all, of the comments mentioned rescued or feral cats. Could our cats' immune systems be compromised by perhaps a mother who might not have been completely healthy - thus the lack of good nutrition? We have also tried antibiotics, lysine, antihistamines and even steroids. I think we will now spare him the many traumatic visits to the vet and just accept the fact that we will be wiping mucous off the floors, couch, etc. Thanks to all for the great information!

Andi    Houston, TX

1/30/2014 5:50:23 PM

My cat Snowy an Owyhee Bob(6 years old)that I rescued off the streets when she was a baby seems to have the same symptoms as all of you and I have been to 3 vets that can't seem to figure this out. She's been sneezing, coughing, congested and dealing with lots of mucus for 4 months now, but otherwise seems just fine. I was on another website tonight called Pet Talk petoftheday.com that suggested 2 newer drugs that seem to be working for people. Orbax(according to website)someone there suggested 30 days of taking one 22.7mg Orbax pill per day has helped significantly and another drug called Zeniquin seems to be working as well. Note: apparently these meds are expensive...I have another appointment on Saturday. I have this information written down and ready to discuss with my vet. I'll let you know how it goes. By the way - the URL for that pet forum is LINK It certainly can't hurt to discuss with your vet... Good luck to all of you. I truly understand how baffling and frustrating this condition can be. You are not alone.

Andi    Houston, TX

1/30/2014 5:49:18 PM

My cat Snowy an Owyhee Bob(6 years old)that I rescued off the streets when she was a baby seems to have the same symptoms as all of you and I have been to 3 vets that can't seem to figure this out. She's been sneezing, coughing, congested and dealing with lots of mucus for 4 months now, but otherwise seems just fine. I was on another website tonight called Pet Talk petoftheday.com that suggested 2 newer drugs that seem to be working for people. Orbax(according to website)someone there suggested 30 days of taking one 22.7mg Orbax pill per day has helped significantly and another drug called Zeniquin seems to be working as well. Note: apparently these meds are expensive...I have another appointment on Saturday. I have this information written down and ready to discuss with my vet. I'll let you know how it goes. By the way - the URL for that pet forum is LINK It certainly can't hurt to discuss with your vet... Good luck to all of you. I truly understand how baffling and frustrating this condition can be. You are not alone.

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