Cat Shaking Head & Sneezing

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A single sneeze isn't a big deal, but repetitive sneezing and shaking of the head indicate an ongoing health issue that requires immediate attention. Many feline health problems impact the nasal passages, including respiratory infections, ear disorders and physical injuries. Contact your veterinarian if your cat is sneezing regularly or if you notice additional signs of illness.


Common Causes

Respiratory Infection

Upper respiratory tract infections plague animal shelters and other feline communities throughout the country. The disease affects cats of all ages and is a prime suspect in cases of chronic sneezing and nasal discharge. Some cats suffer from chronic infections that produce sporadic symptoms for weeks or months until treated.


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Other classic signs of respiratory infection include:

  • Diminished sense of smell, leading to appetite and weight loss
  • Discharge and inflammation of the eyes
  • Thick nasal discharge that may be a yellow or reddish color
  • Uncharacteristic aggressive or antisocial behavior
  • Pawing at the face or ears


Allergic Reaction

Some cats suffer from allergic reactions when exposed to particular irritants in the environment or their food. Sneezing, loud breathing and itching around eyes or ears are common signs. Felines exposed to an allergy trigger can also develop severe gastrointestinal distress, including vomiting and diarrhea. Finding the trigger is a long process that requires restriction of your cat's movement and diet as determined by your vet.


Physical Obstruction or Injury

Damage to the sensitive lining inside the nose can lead to discharge, sneezing and general discomfort. Internal injuries can cause subtle, chronic symptoms until they heal. There may also be some bleeding inside the nasal passages, which reddens the nasal discharge.



Head shaking and sneezing are symptoms of nasal polyps, which are noncancerous growths common in younger felines.

Pieces of plant matter and other small objects can get stuck inside the narrow passages in the ears and nose. Aside from discomfort, sneezing and swelling, this can also limit your cat's hearing or breathing. Objects stuck in the ear can also create an opportunity for infection to take hold.


Ear Disorders

Your cat relies on her ears to maintain balance and general awareness of the environment. Infection, swelling or parasitic infestation of the ear canal can be extremely uncomfortable and disconcerting for your pet. Cats with ear issues often paw or scratch at their ears and shake their head.


Treating the Condition

Professional Diagnosis

Determining the cause of your cat's symptoms can be a complex task that requires a detailed physical examination and various tests. Your vet may conduct bacterial or fungal cultures to identify pathogens in the ears or nose. Blood and urine analysis can also reveal underlying health issues, like hormone imbalance, exposure to toxins and other ailments.


Reversing the Condition

Your cat's prognosis depends on the underlying cause and available treatment options. Anesthesia and minor surgery may be required to safely remove foreign objects and other obstructions. Many infections can be cured with a course of antibiotic or antifungal medicine. Ear mites and infections require routine administration of liquid medicine at home. Follow your veterinarian's instructions and complete the treatment exactly as prescribed.


Diseases like feline leukemia and infectious peritonitis are generally fatal, so the focus is on managing symptoms and discomfort.

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.