Sneezing is common, yes; but it's one symptom of a disease called feline herpesvirus. Cats cannot pass the feline herpes virus to humans, but it is contagious to other cats. Infected cats become lifetime carriers of feline herpesvirus, shedding virus during periods of stress.
Feline Herpes Virus
Feline herpesvirus is a common upper respiratory disease in domestic cats, affecting the nose, throat, sinuses and eyes. The virus is specific to cats -- it is not contagious to humans or other species. Feline herpesvirus has been found in cheetahs, lions and pumas. Most cats are exposed to the virus at a young age and develop immunity, though intermittent viral reactivation can occur.
How Feline Herpes Spreads
Feline herpesvirus spreads only between cats, not from cats to humans. The virus is spread by physical contact with infected cats during fighting, rubbing, grooming and sneezing. Also, your cat can get feline herpes by sharing contaminated litter boxes, toys and food or water bowls. Cats diagnosed with feline herpesvirus can spread the virus to other cats one to three weeks after infection begins and during periods of reactivation.
Diagnosis of Feline Herpes
Many times, veterinarians diagnose feline herpesvirus on clinical signs alone. Your cat may have a fever and experience coughing, sneezing, depression and lack of appetite. Excess discharge from the eyes and nose is common. Several types of diagnostic tests are available to help diagnose feline herpesvirus, but they are not 100 percent accurate. Left untreated, cats with feline herpesvirus can develop eye ulcerations and pneumonia.
Treatment of Symptoms
Treat symptoms of feline herpesvirus as they arise. If your cat is just sneezing, usually no supportive care is necessary. Gently wipe accumulated discharge from the eyes and nose of your cat several times a day if necessary. A cat with a fever or dehydration may need antibiotics and fluid therapy. Antiviral medications may help ease some symptoms of feline herpesvirus, while creams or ointments may be necessary for eye irritations. Medication, nutrition and love will help your cat to a full recovery.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
- North Carolina State College of Veterinary Medicine: Ophthalmology-Special Services, Technology, & Information, Feline Herpes Virus
- Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery: Feline Herpesvirus Infection
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Herpes
- Clinical Techniques in Small Animal Practice: Feline Herpesvirus
Based in Michigan, Keri Gardner has been writing scientific journal articles since 1998. Her articles have appeared in such journals as "Disability and Rehabilitation" and "Journal of Orthopaedic Research." She holds a Master of Science in comparative medicine and integrative biology from Michigan State University.