Cats sneeze and suffer from runny nose and watery eyes


Paws and claws: Runny nose, watery eyes and sneezing – looks like someone with hay fever, especially right now with all the pollen.

Symptoms are also one of the most common requests in the hospital when it comes to our purring four-legged friends.

Kate brought in Shady this week with a particularly severe sneezing case. Shady is a 3 year old moggy in a classic black and white tuxedo, with long white mustaches and a jet black cobra tail.

Poor Shady was miserable, with a runny nose and swollen watery eyes. She started sneezing three days ago, but the symptoms had gradually worsened and she was no longer interested in her food and slept all day in one place on the bed.

Shady suffered from an “upper respiratory tract infection”, which in the feline world is quite common and contagious, and symptoms generally resemble those of the common cold.

Often times, people call these symptoms feline flu, which is associated with a horror reaction and fear of imminent death. Therefore, it is far better to use the term “upper respiratory tract infection”.

Feline flu is a confusing term. In classic veterinary parlance – which we try not to use in the hospital – it means infection with one of the two viruses. But the symptoms of sneezing and watery eyes can also be caused by other insects.

The two viruses are called herpes and calici viruses, and one of the other viruses that cause cat colds is called chlamydia. I know even these cause another horror reaction, but don’t worry. None of these are identical to the famous human varieties of STDs.

Kittens, senior cats, unvaccinated cats, and those in contact with many other cats are at greater risk. Thus, catteries, rescue organizations, breeders and pet shops, where many cats are gathered, are high risk areas.

And I have a lot of empathy for all of these people, because even with the best possible precautions and the requirement that all boarding cats be vaccinated, they can still have a carrier cat or a cat that doesn’t start sneezing until. ‘to get home that can infect most other cats before anyone realizes it. It’s no one’s fault, but it can lead to a lot of sneezing in cats during peak times of the year.

So if they are all vaccinated, why are they doing it?

There are two reasons. First, as I explained, the common cold is not always caused by the two feline flu viruses that we vaccinate against. It can often be caused by chlamydia, which almost all cats are not vaccinated against. There is a vaccine, but unfortunately a small percentage of cats get sick after vaccination, so it is not commonly used.

Second, vaccinated cats can still develop mild symptoms of viral infection, just like us, even if we get the flu shot.

Shady’s infection had developed to the point of giving him a high temperature, which was determined by doing the Doctor Dolittle thing.

Just like us, cats get quite tired and can be painful to the touch when their temperature rises. This, along with the lack of the ability to smell due to a stuffy nose, will deter them from eating.

These infections are very contagious and so it is in isolation for Shady.

Just like in humans, there is no drug to directly kill the virus, but we can treat chlamydia with a specific type of antibiotic and it is also important to prevent secondary bacterial infections and provide supportive care.

So, we often prescribe antibiotics and eye medications when needed. Most cats recover in 7-10 days and never stop eating, but some, like Shady, can get sick very quickly.

After a week in the hospital Kate brought home a much happier Shady home and aside from the occasional sneezing Shady is back to normal and is sleeping in the sun on the end of Kate’s bed.


If you notice your cat sneezing persistently, please give us a call so that we can prevent it from getting worse.

Ask us to vaccinate your friend regularly to avoid a case of real feline flu

❑ Remember that all catteries will require proof of vaccination before boarding.

It reminds me: Check that you have the vaccination passport for your furry friend’s vacation stay and that it is up to date. Most kennels will also require a kennel cough vaccine for your dog. It is not always included in your normal vaccine. And book now for the summer stay because most catteries and kennels are already very booked.

Have a good week to the entire Anderson’s team.

Malcolm Anderson is a Manawatū veterinarian

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