How to Care for a Sick Cat who is Sneezing or has a Runny Nose

Every year hundreds of cat owners become worried, their cat is sneezing, or worse. What is the cause, and what is the help that can be offered?

If your cat is sneezing it probably has URTI.

Upper Respiratory Tract Infection URTI, or sometimes just known as UTI (although this is also used for Urinary Tract Infections) , is a common problem among domestic felines. It is much like a cold, or flu, in humans and can occasionally develop into pneumonia, particularly in kittens and older animals. In some cats the condition becomes chronic with the animal experiencing several attacks throughout the year, mostly manifested by sneezing fits only.

Symptoms of Colds in Cats

  • Sneezing is often the first symptom, and by itself is really no concern for alarm.
  • Watery eyes, of concern when they become crusted over.
  • Nasal Discharge, which is of concern and especially so if it becomes bloody.
  • Lack of appetite.
  • Conjunctivitis (pinkeye) an indication of Chlamydia.
  • Drooling.
  • Open mouth breathing, cause for immediate attention.
  • Fever.
  • Ulcers may form in the mouth and around the nose and eyes.

A sick cat by wwhyte1968.


There are several viruses and bacteria that can cause this problem. The most common viral causes are feline herpesvirus 1 (FHV) and feline calicvirus (FVC). The most common bacteria responsible is feline chlamydia (not the same as human chlamydia), but there are others.

Cats living close together, especially in stressed situations, can easily spread the organisms, direct contact is not necessary. As such cats in shelters, stores, and kennels are often exposed to risk factors.

Cats who are stressed, young, underfed, have lower resistance and often become very ill.

Feral cat populations can spread the disease.

Owners who have been exposed can carry the viral organisms home to their own cats.

Plastic food and water bowls cannot be properly disinfected and can carry bacteria and viruses.

URTI can be airborne and viruses can live on uncleaned surfaces for up to 6 months.

Cats may become sick up to 10-14 days after exposure.

How to Treat a Sick Cat

If the cat is just sneezing, it should be kept indoors, and kept warm.

Feeding extra canned food (chicken and rice mush) is also a good idea. You might try adding warm water to the food, making it more soup-like, especially if the cat is having difficulty eating. Feed small amounts, but several times a day. The cat should still have access to its regular dry food.

If the cat is not eating, it can be encouraged to eat more by placing the food in the microwave for a few seconds to make the food smell better. It is smell that attracts cats to eat, and a cat with a stuffy nose may have problems smelling.

If the cat has more than one symptom a trip to the vet is important. Especially if it is a young kitten.

The vet will want to determine if the cause is bacterial or viral before suggesting a treatment. If they send the cat home for treatment it is very important the owner monitor its condition and call the veterinarian if symptoms worsen.

Water should be offered in stainless steel or ceramic bowl, it should be refreshed several times daily. Monitor the cat for drinking. In severe cases a cat may be given water with a syringe or eye dropper, being careful not to shoot too much water into its mouth that the water goes into the lungs.

Keep the sick cat indoors, isolated from other cats. Treat them last, after taking care of any healthy cats first. Change clothing afterwards.

Young kittens may require a hot water bottle in their beds and should be confined to a small room to encourage, and allow, rest.

In dry climates a humidifier may make breathing easier.

Sick Kitty by pmarkham.

Preventing Sickness in Cats

There are some vaccinations available but none are 100% effective.

Use stainless steel or ceramic bowls, never plastic.

If getting any used cat equipment, such as a carrier, wash it thoroughly with bleach.

Keep cats indoors only especially kittens, and especially in areas with a lot of stray or feral cats.

Change clothes after being around sick cats, as at a friends home.

Use bleach to clean areas in the home where a sick cat has been.

Do not bring stray, or unvaccinated cats, into your home or expose your cats to them.

Other Tips on Cat Care

When getting a new cat, be sure it comes with at least a 14 day health guarantee.

Even after recovery cats can still shed the organisms responsible, as such be very careful when introducing a new pet to your home where one who has been sick resides. It is better to select a more mature cat rather than a very young kitten.

These cat diseases are not contagious to humans, nor can a cat catch a cold from a human.

If unchecked upper respiratory tract infection can spread into lower, and lung, infections such as pneumonia.

Related Reading

Advice for Cats with the Sniffles

How to Introduce a New Cat

Symptoms Pet Owners should NOT Ignore

Can I Catch a Cold from my Cat?

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User Comments
  1. amandeep13

    On January 21, 2010 at 10:04 am

    Great Work

    Well Done

  2. Sourav

    On January 21, 2010 at 1:35 pm

    A fantastic article on cat’s health.

  3. ken bultman

    On January 21, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    A cat suffering from this is a pitiful sight. My understanding is that it can be tracked in on shoes to infect otherwise healthy indoor cats.

  4. Ruby Hawk

    On January 21, 2010 at 6:55 pm

    poor kitties,

  5. CA Johnson

    On January 21, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    This is interesting. I don’t have a cat, but my mother used to have one.

  6. deep blue

    On January 21, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    Well researched tips on feline care. Cat lovers will be thankful for this, Brenda.

  7. Inna Tysoe

    On January 21, 2010 at 9:46 pm

    Thank you for that.


  8. Vikram Chhabra

    On January 22, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    Interesting collection of information!

  9. AlmaG

    On January 22, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    My cat experiences this too and I make sure to keep them warm. Thanks wonderful post!

  10. lillyrose

    On January 23, 2010 at 3:52 am

    Great article. Cat flu is so pathetic, I adopted a kitten that was dumped at the vets, he had cat flu and his little face looked like the last pic. I called him Gordon.

  11. lillyrose

    On January 23, 2010 at 3:54 am

    great article, I adopted a kitten that was dumped at the vets, he had cat flu and looked just like the kitten in your last pic. I called him Gordon.

  12. standingproud

    On January 23, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    awww poor puddy cat…
    So awful to see…
    My kitten got cat flu, blowing bubbles in all,so little and defenceless….. he died

  13. PR Mace

    On January 23, 2010 at 7:44 pm

    Excellent article. As you know I don’t have cats but my daughter does, so I pass these articles on to her.

  14. Daisy Peasblossom

    On January 24, 2010 at 12:17 am

    You are correct that multiple cat households are at greater risk for respiratory and other illnesses. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent spreading through the population.

  15. A.L.Smith

    On January 26, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    Great article B. As a new cat owner I can certainly use the info.

  16. The N

    On May 15, 2010 at 6:12 am

    This is a great article, well done

  17. Mark Gordon Brown

    On September 28, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    Those poor kitties look so sick.

  18. Camden

    On March 27, 2012 at 5:57 am

    My older vaccinated cat started sneezing and it only lasted 2 days and then my 2 year old pregnant cat started sneezing and then watery eyes and drooling and got worse, she wasnt her self and started breathing with her mouth open 4 days later. I had a feeling it may have become pneumonia so i had to start giving her anti-biotics, i gave her a 800mg TRIMETHOPRIM / SULFA even though it can be bad for pregnant cats as it effects folic acid but i had no choice as she was becoming gravely sick and she is toward the end of the pregnancy, i then was able to get 500mg amoxycillin and she has gotten a little better though its only been 1 day since starting treatment, but she started drinking water again and walking around. I will continue to monitor her and give amoxycillin. I opened the capsule and mixed it in with some wet food but i think she can tell that somethings up with it, so the way i was able to was shoving it down her throat which is very hard and hard for you to do to your cat, but it could save theyre life.

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