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

Chad    Grand Rapids, MI

4/1/2015 8:25:32 PM

Anyone have any updates? Our 8.5 year old cat, Kelso, has had the same thing going on most of his life. 6 months ago he quit eating due to congestion and ended up having a feeding tube put in and had various tests run. Everything came back negative for cancer and he was diagnosed with chronic sinusitis. He is azithromyocin 2 consecutive days each week, Cerebia every other day, chlorpheniramine daily, and a saline nose drops and a steroid nose. He was doing "fine" but seems to be back sliding again. Our vet is a cat specialist is going try another medication and we purchased an all natural supplement to give that a try as well. It's been super stressful on him and us and we would love to find a treatment that can make him comfortable.

charlotte    TAMPA, FL

3/23/2015 2:09:36 PM

Used Azithromycin off label for herpes sneezing and mucous in a feral cat. Worked for about 50 days, then symptoms returned. Gave 1/4 of 250mg pill 7 days apart, then stopped. Total dose in 1 week was 125mg for 10 lb+ cat.
Repeated the same as first time; and symptoms disappeared again about 50 days. Want to avoid cat getting immune to the antibiotic so am holding off a while allowing symptoms to get full blown. Could help relieve sinus damage if used once and a while.

Cathy    Queens, NY

2/7/2015 10:07:14 AM

My cat Ricky has the same problem. I had taken him to 3 different vets with the third wanting to do exploratory surgery on his nasal cavity which I could not afford and was afraid for him to undergo something so traumatic. He has been sneezing for 8 years spreading copious amounts of mucous all over the house, walls, furniture, my clothes. It is horrible! He is the most lovable thing though, he hasn't gone 1 single day without sneezing mucous. I am now planning on going to a holistic place to see what they suggest.

Kara    Arlington, VA

1/22/2015 4:40:37 PM

My cat also has this problem.I adopted him from a shelter and he had a very bad respiratory infection, likely caused from feline herpes, when I first got him. Although his health improved, after several rounds of antibiotics, his chronic sneezing never did. I decided to stop the antibiotics because he is otherwise very healthy. He runs, plays, and eats. He is just the snottiest little thing!

I did come up with some tricks to help him out. I will give him a few spritzes of Little Noses, saline solution (other brands work well too, just make sure its unmedicated saline solution--usually sold for newborn babies) He doesn't love getting the drops, but it can loosen up his congestion and help him sneeze. Also sometimes I bring him in the bathroom with me while I shower and let the steam clear him out.

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