Whenever I hear my cat sneeze, I can’t help but find the little “achoo!” noise adorable. The occasional sneeze is nothing to worry about. It is usually just that something has momentarily tickled their nose and caused them to sneeze.
However, if your cat is sneezing excessively or in combination with other symptoms, it could indicate they aren’t feeling well. My cat has watery eyes and sneezes, and these two symptoms together are extremely common in cats.
In most cases, these symptoms are usually a sign of an upper respiratory infection comparable to the human cold. However, many different infections are linked to sneezing and watery eyes. Moreover, there is also a chance your cat is suffering from allergies
In this article, I delve into more detail and help you determine which situation applies to your cat. I also recommend some next steps.
However, if you think your cat is sick, your veterinarian should always be your first point of call.
6 Reasons Your Cat Has Watery Eyes and Sneezes
If your cat has watery eyes and sneezes frequently, it is highly likely they are suffering from some type of upper respiratory infection (URI). This is where some kind of virus, bacteria, or fungus infects the nose, throat, and sinuses or your cat. These types of infections are extremely common and vary hugely in severity; some are like a mild cold whereas others can cause life-threatening symptoms.
Several different types of viruses and bacteria can cause upper respiratory infections. Around 80% to 90% of all URIs are viral, caused by either the feline herpesvirus or the feline calicivirus. The remaining 10% to 20% are mostly bacterial infections, with fungal URIs being the least common. As all of these pathogens infect the upper airways, they cause similar symptoms – including watery eyes and sneezing.
Here I explain a little more about the different types of URIs your cat may contract and the treatment options for each. Alternatively, if your cat is showing no other symptoms, it may be sneezing due to allergies. Therefore, I also touch on this and offer advice on how you can help ease your cat’s allergic response.
1. Feline Herpesvirus
Feline herpesvirus (FHV) is one of the most common causes of upper respiratory infections in cats. It is highly contagious and can easily be transmitted from one infected cat to another. The virus infects your cat’s upper airways, causing an acute infection. This causes cats to sneeze and have watery eyes as they try to fight the virus off.
If your cat has FHV, you’ll notice other common symptoms of an upper respiratory infection as well.
This includes the following clinical signs:
- Eye discharge or conjunctivitis
- Nasal discharge
- Cat sounds congested when breathing
- Exhaustion or lethargy
- Loss of appetite
- Drooling and open-mouth breathing
In addition, long-term exposure to the virus can cause keratitis. This is where the cornea in your cat’s eye becomes inflamed and can cause a partial loss of vision. In rare cases, a skin condition called FHV-associated dermatitis can also arise. This is where your cat develops ulcers around the nose, mouth, and/or legs.
If you think your cat has FHV, you’ll need to take them to your vet for diagnosis and treatment. They’ll be able to provide medication to help fight off secondary bacterial infections and manage symptoms. However, there is no curative treatment and your cat will carry the FHV virus with them for the rest of their lives. This can cause flare-ups at random points throughout their life.
As feline herpesvirus is not curable you need to make sure your cat is vaccinated if you haven’t done so already. This won’t prevent infection with the feline herpesvirus, but will drastically reduce the chances of infection.
2. Feline Calicivirus
The second most common cause of upper respiratory infections in cats is feline calicivirus (FCV).
As this is another viral infection of the upper airways, it has very similar symptoms to infections with FHV, such as:
- Sneezing and mild conjunctivitis
- Discharge from their nasal passages
- Ulcers on the mouth and tongue
- Drooling and excessive salivation
- Loss of appetite
- Weakness and lethargy
Although less common, some cats will suffer from breathing difficulties. For instance, a cat breathing heavily while resting or having rapid labored breathing. Feline calicivirus can also lead to ongoing cases of oral ulceration in their mouth leading to gingivitis or stomatitis.
Again, if you suspect an FCV infection you should take your cat to the vet. They will be able to confirm whether or not the flu-like symptoms are because of this virus. Unfortunately, there is no treatment to help fight off this viral infection either. However, your vet will be able to prescribe medication to help deal with the symptoms or to fight off secondary bacterial infections.
Again, there is an FCV vaccine for all cats that they should first receive when they are kittens. Keep up to date with your cat’s booster vaccines every 1-3 years to minimize the risk of infection. This provides ongoing immunity and will keep your cat fit and healthy.
3. Feline Chlamydia
Chlamydia is another type of upper respiratory infection. However, rather than being caused by a virus, this illness is through infection with the Chlamydia felis bacterium. Still, as the infection is targeting the upper airways flu-like symptoms are usually present.
- Excessive sneezing
- Watery eyes or ocular discharge
- Coughing and difficulty breathing
- Discharge from the nose
- Lack of appetite
One of the most prominent symptoms of feline chlamydia is conjunctivitis, and Chlamydia felis infections account for 30% of all conjunctivitis cases. This is where the eyelids and surrounding eye area become inflamed. The eyes often turn pink and there will be substantial discharge from the infected eye. This is sometimes watery and thin but can be extremely thick and pus-like as well.
If your cat has conjunctivitis and is sneezing, chlamydia is a likely cause. Call your vet and ask them to run tests to confirm the diagnosis. Your vet will then prescribe antibiotics to fight off the infection. They’ll also teach you how to clean discharge from your cat’s eyes to help speed up recovery.
4. Bordetella Infections
Bordetella infection is the reason my cat has watery eyes and sneezes. Like chlamydia, this is another bacterial infection this time caused by the B. Bronchiseptica bacterium. It is much more common among big groups of cats that are in close contact with each other, such as when you put your cat in a cattery while you go on vacation.
The bacterium that causes this infection is closely related to the Bordetella pertussis bacterium that causes whooping cough in humans. However, a bad cough and breathing difficulties are not common symptoms in cats.
Instead, other upper respiratory symptoms are more likely to present, including:
- Sneezing and snuffling
- Discharge from the nose
- Swollen sinuses and glands
- Increased lethargy
In most cases, bordetella infections are minor and can easily be treated with antibiotics prescribed by your vet. However, the infection is particularly dangerous in young cats or those with an impaired immune system. It can lead to severe breathing difficulties and can be fatal if not treated.
Thankfully, you can reduce the chance of your cat contracting bordetella infections by keeping your cat’s vaccinations up to date. One vaccine typically offers immunity for 12 months. As the infection is less common than others on this list, yearly vaccinations aren’t completely necessary. However, it is a good idea to get your cat vaccinated before putting her into a cattery as this is where the infection is most commonly contracted.
5. Mycoplasma Infections
The last upper respiratory infection that can cause watery eyes and sneezing I am going to talk about is a mycoplasma infection. This is another bacterial infection. However, the bacteria act as a parasite in the blood. Therefore, the most common symptom is anemia, which can lead to:
- Lethargy and weakness
- Extreme tiredness
- Loss of appetite
- Pale skin and mucous membranes
- Breathlessness and feeling faint
What that being said, some symptoms related to the site of infection are also commonly present. As the bacteria is generally inhaled, this usually leads to sneezing, breathing difficulties, and coughing. However, the bacteria can enter through wounds or the urinary tract. In these cases, UTIs or joint inflammation may present as symptoms instead.
In most cases, any symptoms your cat does exhibit will be mild. However, older cats or felines with an impaired immune system can have a more adverse reaction. They could suffer from more severe breathing difficulties and, in worst cases, they could contract pneumonia.
If you notice any signs, take your cat to the vet for diagnosis. They will then prescribe a course of antibiotics. Unfortunately, the bacteria can be persistent and hard to eradicate. Therefore, you must take your cat for a check-up after they have finished their course. Where the infection has not gone completely, another course of antibiotics will be recommended.
Finally, your cat may have watery eyes and sneeze because they have allergies. This is a highly likely explanation if your cat keeps sneezing but seems fine. Just like humans, cats can be allergic to all types of substances, including pollen, litter dust, dust mites, fragrances, and chemicals. Believe it or not, cats can be allergic to another cat as well!
If your cat is allergic to a substance found in your home, its immune system will get to work and try to remove the allergens from its body. For inhaled allergens, they try to do this through sneezing. The fast passage of air flowing out their nose helps to push the allergens out of the body. In the same way, watery and running eyes help to flush out any allergens that are in the eye area.
If you think your cat has an allergy, you should take them to the vet. They will be able to conduct an allergy test to help determine precisely what it is that is triggering this allergic response. Having figured this out, they can then work with you to find a suitable solution.
The easiest way to manage your cat’s allergies is to remove the allergen from your home or limit the amount of allergy-causing substances that are present.
For example, you could:
- Use a dust-free and fragrance-free cat litter
- Clean your home regularly to remove dust mites and dirt
- Use pet-friendly cleaning products that contain no harsh chemicals
- Avoid smoking around your pets
- Purchase an air purifier to remove allergens from the air
- Wash your cat’s bedding frequently
In cases where the allergen cannot be eliminated or where your cat’s allergies are severe, your vet may additionally prescribe medication. Antihistamines are effective for a range of allergies. Alternatively, eye drops may be better if your cat is mainly suffering from oral discharge.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
In most cases, your cat will be suffering from an upper respiratory infection. These can be caused by various pathogens as detailed in this article. Make note of any symptoms and take your cat to the vet so they can prescribe some form of treatment.
Because the two most common URIs – felines herpesvirus and feline calicivirus – are incurable, be sure to get your cat vaccinated so they have immunity. Moreover, if you do have an infected cat, be sure to keep them away from any other animals in your home to help limit the spread.
The only other explanation for having watery eyes and sneezing is allergies. Allergies can develop at any point in a cat’s life, even for substances they previously lived with without bother. Again, your vet is the best point of call. They’ll be able to confirm what your cat is allergic to and offer advice on how to best manage these allergies.