Among the health dangers young kittens face as they grow are viruses and bacteria that cause swelling, irritation and infected airways. Frequent sneezing, usually accompanied by nasal discharge and coughing or hacking, is a symptom of upper respiratory infection or URI. Sneezing usually lasts for the duration of the illness.
An upper respiratory infection involves the sinus cavities, nose and throat. The symptoms of such an infection in a kitten are similar to those in a human with a cold; they include a runny nose, watery or goop-filled eyes, and lots of hacking and sneezing. While some of the symptoms appear similar to allergies, in the case of an upper respiratory infection, the kitten is actually suffering from either a viral or bacterial infection. The incubation phase can vary from two to 10 days, while the active infection can last anywhere from seven to 21 days.
Types of Infections
Kittens are susceptible to several types of viral infections that can cause an upper respiratory infection, including calcivirus, feline herpes (rhinotracheitis), bordetella and chlamydophila. Of these viruses, sneezing from herpes typically lasts the longest. A bacterial infection, meanwhile, can be successfully treated with antibiotics; sneezing should stop within a week. The younger your kitten, the more likely it is that the sneezing will continue for weeks rather than days because his immune system is less developed and not highly capable of defending him against illness.
The time from the first sneeze to the last can vary greatly, depending on the cause of the infection, the health and age of the kitten, and environmental factors such as stress and cleanliness. Once symptoms appear, your kitten will likely sneeze for at least a week but may keep sneezing for nearly a month. Even if the cause is viral, your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics to prevent secondary infection. If your kitten keeps sneezing after completing treatment, see your veterinarian again.
If your kitten was infected with a virus, it is possible that even though he stops sneezing or showing symptoms he will continue to harbor the virus in his body. This means that an infection may return at any time, especially if he is stressed or in poor health. Typically, the sneezing will last for a couple of weeks each time your kitty becomes ill. As your kitten grows up, however, the symptoms will usually last a shorter time during each recurrence.