Kitten Sneezing & Eye Discharge

By Betty Lewis

Your sweet little kitten's eyes aren't looking very bright and she's sneezed enough that you know how to spell gesundheit. Though she's probably feeling poorly you can take comfort knowing that eye discharge and sneezing in kittens is fairly common and in mild cases, usually clears up on its own.

Upper Respiratory Infection Symptoms

It takes a while for a kitten's immune system to fully develop, making her vulnerable to a variety of potential infections she isn't yet strong enough to withstand. It's not uncommon for a kitten to develop an upper respiratory infection, particularly if she's spent time in an animal shelter, lived outdoors or lived in a crowded or stressed environment. In addition to sneezing and eye discharge, symptoms of an upper respiratory infection are similar to human colds and include:

  • Congestion 
  • Drooling 
  • Fever 
  • Poor appetite 
  • Nasal discharge 
  • Coughing 
  • Ulcers in the mouth or nose 

Causes of Upper Respiratory Infections

The most common cause of an upper respiratory infection is the feline herpes virus, also referred to as the rhinotracheitis virus, which causes sneezing and nasal discharge. The calici virus isn't as tough on the respiratory system but causes oral ulcers, making it difficult for a kitten to eat and causing drooling. These two viruses account for approximately 90 percent of upper respiratory infections; chlamydophila, mycoplasma, bordetella and other agents are also occasionally the culprit. It's possible for more than one agent to cause an upper respiratory infection.

Treating Upper Respiratory Infections

Generally, an upper respiratory infection will resolve on its own in a week or two, since a virus is usually the cause. If a kitten is eating well and playing normally, there's often no cause for alarm and will often recover on her own. However, occasionally veterinary treatment is necessary. Bordetella and chlamydophila respond to tetracycline antibiotics such as doxycycline, and the vet may use eye ointments and nutritional supplements such as lysine for additional relief.

Warnings

  • A kitten should see the vet if she has a fever, quits eating, has red eyes, is lethargic, is breathing with an open mouth or has corneal ulcers.