Why is your cat sneezing?

posted: 05/15/12
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A sneezing kitty is pure saccharine. So what could be wrong with an achoo (or two) when it's so adorably sweet? Plenty.

While the occasional cat sneeze probably isn't cause for alarm, a recurring bout could signal more serious problems -- including some that could affect your health, too.

Like us, most cats react to a nostril tickle with a sneeze. However, frequent sneezing, especially when one sneeze follows another and another, may signal allergies. The culprit could be pollen, dust mites, household cleaners or cigarette smoke, so pay attention to what's in the air. Allergies may also cause runny nose or eyes, as well as skin irritation, so check with your veterinarian for medication if your furry companion needs itch relief.

Short-lived sneezing reactions may be prompted by a cat's curiosity. Playing the role of explorer means encountering irritants spread by other critters, like mice or cockroaches. Often, a sneeze or two will clear the nasal passages, but don't overlook this risk: Vermin could have introduced the irritant, so it may be time to call an exterminator.

If your cat is age 3 or older, frequent sneezing paired with stinky breath probably means tooth trouble. Aside from being painful, dental abscesses and gum disease pose a serious threat to your cat's health. So does habitual sneezing, especially when mucous is present around the nostrils or eyes. That's because it could mean your cat has a viral or bacterial respiratory infection. Whereas a bacterial infection will require a trip to the vet for antibiotic treatment, a viral infection like feline herpes will eventually run its course -- even though your cat will remain a carrier for life.

Discovering your cat has feline herpes tends to sound the alarm bells, but don't worry: This disease doesn't spread to humans. Other diseases, though, really are cause for alarm. Among the diseases you could pick up from your cat are fungal infections (ringworm), protozoal infections (diarrhea-inducing giardiasis) or pregnancy-threatening conditions (toxoplasmosis). Plus, cats with intestinal parasites like roundworms can pass them on to humans through contaminated soil (makes you want to keep the kids out of the neighborhood sandbox, doesn't it?).

Cats also are highly susceptible to rabies, and can pass the disease to humans. A more likely danger, though, is cat-scratch fever -- the result of a cat bite or scratch that breaks the skin. Also known as bartonellosis, this malady is the most common one passed from cats to humans, affecting about 25,000 people in the U.S. annually. And, you may want to think twice about inviting your cat to share your bed -- especially if you aren't sure what's causing him to sneeze. Recently, a 9-year-old boy in Arizona contracted the bubonic plague and died after sleeping with his sick cat.

Go ahead, enjoy your cat -- and even the occasional adorable sneeze -- but be on the alert for serious concerns, and protect your health by frequently washing your hands and scheduling up-to-date vaccinations. This way, you and your cat can both lead healthier lives.

- Animal Health Channel. "Feline Herpesvirus Overview, Incidence." (Jan. 26, 2011)

- Companion Animal Parasite Council. "You, Your Cat and Parasites." (Jan. 26, 2011)

- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. "Zoonotic Disease: What Can I Catch from my Cat?" (Jan. 26, 2011)

- DeNoon, Daniel. "Pets in Bed: More Dangerous than Bedbugs?" (Jan. 27, 2011)

- National Center for Infectious Diseases. "Diseases From Cats." (Jan. 27, 2011)

- Schneider, Andrew. "Letting Sleeping Dogs Lie in Your Bed Can Kill You." (Jan. 20, 2011)

- The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "Herpes." (Jan. 27, 2011)

- "Why Does Your Cat Sneeze so Much?" (Jan. 27, 2011)

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