Why Do My Kittens Sneeze and Have Watery Eyes?

It's common for kittens to have upper respiratory infections. See how to detect and help this condition in young cats.

By Arnold Plotnick, DVM

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Help For Sneezing Kittens
Sniffling kittens with pink eyes could suffer from conjunctivitis and upper respiratory infection.

Q: Someone dropped off kittens at our place (we have a farm). The kittens’ eyes run and the kittens sneeze constantly. Can you give me an idea what they have and how to treat it?

A: The most likely cause for sneezing and eye discharge is a viral upper respiratory infection (URI). These commonly affect kittens and are usually caused by a virus: the herpes virus, the calici virus or both. They often result in sneezing, discharge from the eyes and nose, drooling, congestion, fever and poor appetite.

The feline herpes virus (also called the rhinotracheitis virus) is the most common culprit and causes profuse sneezing and a watery or mucoid nasal discharge. Calici virus causes milder respiratory signs, however, it can cause ulcers in the mouth and on the tongue, resulting in drooling and difficulty eating. 

Conjunctivitis ("pinkeye”) in both eyes often accompanies these symptoms. Conjunctivitis can be viral, but it can also be caused by chlamydophila (formerly called chlamydia), a common bacteria isolated from cats with viral upper respiratory infections.

Treatment of URIs requires supportive care with oral antibiotics, antiviral drugs, medicated eye ointments and nutritional supplements such as the amino acid lysine. Fortunately, most kittens recover from respiratory infections.

See more reasons why cats sneeze >>

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Reader Comments

PDS    [DS, MI

1/9/2011 4:59:40 AM

KLFD

Barbara    Arlington Heights, IL

1/7/2011 7:50:07 AM

After volunteering at shelters I've learned to err on the side of caution. When I worked at the shelter I'd wear scrubs and change clothes & shoes before coming into my house. At the shelter we had isolation rooms for any animals that were sick, not tested or not vaccinated. When I foster kittens at home I keep them in a separate room. I wash my hands after handling them and if they are sick I would even change clothes or wear a smock in the room. It may be overkill but kittens under 2 pounds cannot be tested for feline leukemia and feline aids and many other things.

Casey    BIg City, PA

1/7/2011 6:39:00 AM

In response to Hannah's post:

I was told by my vet that if you have healthy cats/kittens (at least 6-8 weeks old) that they can not catch the herpes virus from a sick cat. I'm not a doctor or anything but I have had experience with a sick cat living together with healthy cats, that are not vaccinated.

Four years ago I found a kitten with severe upper respiratory issues. We had 2 cats at that time in already in our house. My vet said that other cats were more of a risk to the herpes cat than the herpes cat was to the healthy cats. The reason for that is because like healthy people, healthy cats can get sick and quickly fight it off. But a simple cold, bacteria, or virus could be very harmful to a cat with an already weakened immune system. Initially, we kept them separated to protect the sick one from them. We then introduced her into the house with the others without any issues. A couple years later we found a litter of kittens outside. We kept them separated from the sick cat, again to protect her from anything the kittens might have. Once we found out that the kittens were healthy, we introduced them all together.

I have had great luck with everyone living together. None of my other cats have ever shown symptoms like my cat with upper respiratory problems.

If your sick cat is not used to your other cats, you may see a slight flair up with her respiratory issues when you first put them together, as stress is a trigger point for herpes cats. Good Luck :-)

Casey    EC, PA

1/7/2011 6:33:45 AM

Cat having

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