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
Another 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.
6. Feline Leukemia Virus
The feline leukemia virus (FeLV) is a viral infection passed between cats. Infected cats commonly develop anemia and lymphoma. However, the virus also suppresses the immune system and increases the likelihood of cats contracting deadly diseases and cancers. Therefore, leukemia is considered a life-threatening condition.
In fact, feline leukemia is one of the leading causes of death in cats second only to trauma. This is mainly because there is no treatment for the infection. However, contracting FeLV won’t necessarily kill your cat. Around 70% of cats that do contract the virus are able to fight it off; as long as the secondary infections are treated, cats can survive.
Most cats with leukemia show no symptoms, especially during the earlier stages of the disease. However, as the infection worsens, clinical signs will start to show. Infections of the upper respiratory tract are a common sign due to the cat’s compromised immune system. As we have already learned URIs lead to sneezing and watery eyes.
Other symptoms that present as health gradually deteriorates include:
- Reduced appetite and weight loss
- Dull-looking fur coat
- Persistent fever
- Infection of the skin and urinary tract
- Pale gums due to anemia
- Persistent diarrhea
- Seizures and behavioral changes
If you suspect your cat has contracted the feline leukemia virus, head to the vet. Although FeLV cannot be treated or eliminated, vets can help with monitoring and treating secondary infections. There is also a FeLV vaccine that you could consider getting if your cat is not infected already.
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.
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.
What Should I Do If Cat Has Watery Eyes and Sneezes?
If your cat has watery eyes and sneezes, it can be easy to panic. However, you don’t need to worry. Follow these top tips and your cat will be happy, healthy, and sneeze-free again in no time!
1. Get Appropriate Treatment
When a cat has watery eyes and sneezes, they are nearly always dealing with some type of upper respiratory infection. Therefore, your first point of call should always be the vet. They’ll be able to diagnose your cat and provide medication if it is needed.
Treatment isn’t always necessary, especially with viral infections. Your cat might be able to fight minor viral infections equivalent to the human cold by themselves. Within a couple of weeks, your cat will be back to normal without any drugs or medication. However, senior cats or those already suffering from another medical condition could struggle and might need additional help.
On the other hand, bacterial infections are always best treated with antibiotics. Leaving these infections unchecked can cause more severe respiratory symptoms and complications, such as pneumonia. Your vet will be able to prescribe an appropriate course of antibiotics or antiviral medication depending on what is causing the illness.
Importantly, never try to treat your cat with over-the-counter human medicine. The bodies of humans and cats are very different, and they handle drugs differently. You could end up making your cat even more unwell. The same is true with human eyedrops – never use human eyedrops on a cat with allergies.
2. Check Vaccination Records
While at your veterinary appointment, speak to your vet about vaccinations. Vaccines do a great job at protecting your cat against several feline respiratory infections. So, although they won’t be able to improve your cat’s symptoms now, up-to-date vaccinations will help prevent your cat from contracting similar infections in the future.
The vaccines for feline herpes virus and feline calicivirus are always combined and most cats will receive this vaccination when kittens as part of their core vaccinations. However, you can get your cat vaccinated against most other URIs, including the feline leukemia virus, Chlamydophila felis, and Bordetella. It is recommended to get these when kittens as well.
Vaccines don’t last forever though. You will need to get booster vaccines every 1 to 3 years if you want them to continue to protect your cat. If you have a single indoor-only cat, 3 years is likely fine. On the other hand, cats in a cattery should have annual vaccinations to protect against infections.
3. Remove Environmental Allergens
As discussed, allergies can be another reason for sneezing and watery eyes. Eyedrops and antihistamines prescribed by a vet can help alleviate symptoms. However, a better option is to figure out what the allergen is. Then you’ll want to remove the allergen from your home or limit the number of allergy-causing substances that are present.
The best method for doing this depends on the type of allergen responsible. Below are some common substances that cats could be allergic to and how you can make changes to limit their presence in your home:
- Cat Litter: Did you know many cats are allergic to their litter? Many products have artificial fragrances, chemicals, or high dust levels that trigger an immune response. You can try swapping to a dust-free and fragrance-free cat litter instead.
- Dust Mites: Dust mites are a common allergen in both people and pets. By cleaning your home regularly, you can remove these mites before the buildup. Opening windows and having good ventilation will also help reduce the accumulation.
- Cigarette Smoke: The fumes from cigarettes are another well-known allergen. Try to not smoke around your pet or in your home at all. The fumes can sink into your furniture and the allergens can stick around for ages. Pop outside the home to smoke instead.
- Cleaning Products: Many cleaning products we use every day contain chemicals that can cause allergies in cats. Take a read of the ingredient list and switch to using pet-friendly cleaning products that contain no harsh chemicals.
If you cannot eliminate the allergen-causing substance, you can reduce its concentration. This is done by improving airflow. In the summer months, leave the windows open so air can flow freely. You might also want to consider getting an air purifier. These units capture airborne allergens so that the air you and your cat breathe is clean and fresh.
4. Food Elimination Diets
Environmental allergens are only one-half of the equation. Food allergies are equally as common in cats. Although it might come as a surprise, it is usually the protein in cat food that triggers an allergic response. Common examples include chicken and beef.
Unfortunately, cats are obligate carnivores. This means they need meat to survive, and their bodies wouldn’t be able to function without it. As such, you cannot simply remove all meat from their diet and hope for the best – the result wouldn’t be a good one! Instead, you need to work out precisely what in their food is causing an allergic response.
What you can do though is put your cat on an elimination diet. This involves limiting one thing from their diet at a time. For example, you might remove all forms of chicken but continue feeding other protein sources. Your cat will need to be on this diet for at least a month.
Pay attention to your cat’s symptoms while they are on the food elimination diet. Have they stopped sneezing? Have their eyes stopped watering? Have other food allergy symptoms such as diarrhea, sickness, and rashes also disappeared? If so, you’ve likely found the cause.
Reintroduce the eliminated food after a month has passed and see if these symptoms all return. If so, this confirms you have found the allergen. You can then simply remove this food source from the diet permanently. It might take a few different rounds of elimination diet to find what food substance is causing an allergic response. Speak to your vet for further advice and help.
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.