Cat snuffles: what it is and what you can do

Cat snuffles is a common cat ailment usually characterised by sneezing, watery eyes and nose and ulceration of nose and tongue, but the cause could be any one of several viruses.

Cat snuffles: what causes it

The most important virus associated with cat snuffles is the herpes virus. It causes an infection of the upper respiratory tract and the eyes and is extremely contagious among cats. It can cause severe illness and even death in kittens but does not affect humans or dogs.

Feline calicivirus infection is another common respiratory disease in cats. The virus attacks the respiratory tract (nasal passages and lungs), the mouth (with ulceration of the tongue), the intestines and the musculoskeletal system. It is highly communicable in unvaccinated cats, and is commonly seen in multi-cat facilities, shelters, poorly ventilated households and breeding catteries. Kittens are the most susceptible.

The herpes virus

Transmission occurs mostly via contact with a lot of virus, usually shed in saliva and nasal or eye secretions. Sneezing then propels the virus as it is attached to droplets of water. The source of infection is either sick cats or recovered cats that shed the virus during periods of stress.

Symptoms include extensive sneezing and conjunctivitis and also corneal ulceration (ulcer on the cornea of the eye). A nasal discharge that starts of clear may become more pus-like. in some cases, the eyelids may become stuck together. In kittens, this could cause permanent eye disease if not treated promptly.

There is no cure for herpes virus infections. The goal is to reduce the frequency and severity of recurrences. Most cats respond well to medical management of the condition and lead normal lives.

Feline calicivirus

Has similar symptoms to the herpes virus plus ulcers on the tongue, hard palate, tip of nose, lips or around claws. Cats may also develop pneumonia and have difficulty breathing. Cats may also experience bleeding, inflammation of joints and fever.

Cats typically acquire feline calicivirus (FCV) after coming into contact with other infected cats, such as in a cattery, boarding facility or shelter.

Lack of vaccination or improper vaccination is thought to be an important risk factor, as well as lowered immune response due to pre-existing infections or diseases.

What can I do if my cat has snuffles?

  1. Your cat will require intensive loving care, which includes removing nasal and eye secretions as they build up.
  2. Keep your cat in a dry, warm and humidified environment. A sheepskin bed is excellent.
  3. Because stress is often a trigger, your cat’s psychological needs are important: companionship, body warmth and catering to fussy food whims.
  4. Eye drops to lubricate the eyes are important. Your vet may prescribe anti-viral eyedrops.
  5. Nasal drops to loosen thick secretions. Never, ever use human medication on your cat. Discuss all medication options with your veterinarian.
  6. If your cat is severely congested, leave him in a steamy bathroom for an hour a day.
  7. In severe cases, if the cat is not eating your vet may need to tube feed.
  8. Your vet may also prescribe a special food; one that is highly nutritious and easy digestible and given at regular intervals to prevent malnutrition. If your cat is suffering from oral ulcers, it will need to be given soft foods.
  9. Some studies have shown that the amino acid Lysine is effective in easing symptoms. Ask your vet for advice.

Your cat’s overall prognosis depends on the severity of the symptoms. Cats with uncomplicated cases of pneumonia, for example, typically recover within three to four days. However, severe pneumonia may be life-threatening. Oral ulcers and arthritis symptoms, on the other hand, generally resolve without complications.

Despite vaccination, many cats are carriers for the virus – that is, they have the virus but do not show any symptoms; 80-100% of acute infections become latent.

Even though vaccinations have not eliminated this virus, vaccination is still the best preventative for your cat, and may reduce the symptoms should your cat acquire the virus. The vaccine is given as a series of boosters to kittens and then every year to adults.