Congested Cat
January 23, 2023 5:52 AM   Subscribe

My cat is frequently congested. What do I do?

My cat Lenny started wheezing sometimes when she breathed. We took her to the vet a few times and they said she wasn't sick, but it could be allergies. We got air purifiers, changed food, littler, etc, gave her allergy pills. It didn't work. She would still be wheezing sometimes off and on for a year or two.

Now she's congested. She's sounded congested on and off (a few days a week) for months now. The vet said it's probably allergies still. Lenny is otherwise fine. She's eating, peeing, pooping, playing, cuddling all totally normally, and seems otherwise healthy. Going to the vet is very stressful for her and is more likely to get her sick than help her at this point. But I want her to feel better. Has your cat had a similar issue? Is there something we're not thinking of that she could be allergic to? She doesn't seem itchy at all, but could it be something else in the house?
posted by Garm to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I've been told before to close the cat in a steamy bathroom while one takes a shower...that could help temporarily...
posted by tiny frying pan at 5:59 AM on January 23

Our cat Jack was sick with an upper respiratory infection when he showed up on our doorstep. After several rounds of antibiotics that did not work completely he was left with congestion that made him sneeze large amounts of snot all over the placed all the time. The vet said he was so small at the time that they did not want to give him any more antibiotics so they suggested the probiotic supplement Fortiflora to help his little immune system fight off the congestion. It worked! He just sneezes normally now and all of his upper respiratory symptoms finally disappeared. It's a flavorful powder you sprinkle on their food daily and it took probably 2 months to clear his congestion but he is now a happy growing kitty and we gave it to him for around 4-5 months total until he was around 8 months old.
posted by blacktshirtandjeans at 6:25 AM on January 23 [5 favorites]

My cat gets sniffly/sneezy sometimes and my vet recommended giving him Lysine. They make cat specific formulas, either powder that you can sprinkle into wet food, a gel that you can feed them straight, or treats. I give him a dose daily at the onset of the congestion and stop when it goes away, and it seems to make the episodes shorter.

Also, because you mentioned wheezing, perhaps you should rule out asthma if you havent already done so. My cat was coughing and wheezing a lot (and is also generally very allergic, itchy, lots of skin issues), and the vet did a chest x-ray and determined he has asthma. I have to give him a few puffs from a kitty inhaler daily and his breathing is much better. Hope Lenny feels better soon!
posted by carlypennylane at 6:27 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]

All of our cats were at one time outside or in a shelter environment with lots of other cats. To varying severity, they all display "flare ups" from herpesvirus from time to time (slightly runny eyes, crusties, congestion).

Has your vet recommended lysine? It can reduce symptoms. We give daily (powder) mixed in wet food or gravy treats.

Our vet has said these symptoms are basically nothing to worry about unless the discharge changes colors (green), and it's not something that can be fully eradicated.
posted by GrimmblyTuna at 6:28 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]

Our older cat had congestion for several months that took a really bad turn in early 2021 (on January 6, memorably). We had been shrugging it off, but then rather suddenly he got so congested that he couldn't eat or drink anymore. The vet did a panel to check for pathogens and he came back positive for two that tend to be chronic and flare up in the presence of other stressors (one of them was feline herpesvirus, the other some kind of bacterial coinfection). The vet was able to pull him out of his spiral with a nasal flush (essentially, a kitty neti pot) -- but this required anesthesia and a lot of money and, presumably, some discomfort for him, and isn't something we would do while he was behaving like your cat is. I bring it up only to give you some context that these respiratory symptoms can turn serious. He recovered completely after the nasal flush and some heavy duty antibiotics.

Unfortunately, he began to sneeze, cough, and get snotty again last spring; antibiotics tamed it but then he had to have minor surgery and I guess the stress caused it to come roaring back. We tried a variety of meds for a good two or three months this past summer/fall and really didn't see much improvement, and he hated them so much that we eventually just decided to let him be. The symptoms come and go but he's still eating, drinking, and mad for the laser pointer. But because of that crisis we still do keep a closer eye on his behavior than we do for his little sister.
posted by eirias at 6:53 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]

Another vote for lysine. There are plenty of other things That can cause these problems, but it's really easy to get some lysine treats, or some lysine powder that you mix in with their food. And you should start to see results in a couple of days.
posted by wotsac at 7:01 AM on January 23

Does it get worse in the winter? Heating systems tend to dry out the air and that can cause all sorts of sinus problems.

If the steamy bathroom treatment seems to help then I recommend getting a humidifier with a built-in humidistat to keep in the room he spends the most time in and experiment with different percentages to see what humidity level controls his symptoms.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:58 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]

For acute nasal congestion, the vet said it was okay to give my senior cat with herpes virus a drop of Neosynephrine in each nostril up to once a day. From the drugstore, it’s a brand name and generics all had more of the active ingredient.

Other things that help: heating pad so she’s not sitting on the forced air heating vent as much, encourage plenty of water drinking, keeping the household low stress with opportunities for her to play / watch birds / etc. Lysine didn’t seem to make a difference for her.
posted by momus_window at 8:24 AM on January 23

Is the vet sure it's not asthma? Our cat was wheezing and had some congestion and it's asthma. We give him a puff of Flixotide every day and it has helped considerably.
posted by XtineHutch at 9:17 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]

my first thought would be to rule out asthma. franklin had asthma his whole life, and we were able to keep it well-controlled with an inhaler and the occasional round of steroids.

my second thought (though easier to do first) is to get some lysine powder. archie was a shelter cat and came to me with sneezes and snuffles and eye goop. lysine powder everyday for a bit of time cleared it up. when i am lax about sprinkling it every day, the eye goop starts to come back and it's my reminder to start sprinkling every day.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 9:35 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]

If you can try another vet, I'd go for a second opinion. This is a difficult symptom that could be due to different causes, and another person might make different connections and have different ideas, training, and experience. They don't have to be a "better" vet to be worth visiting just because they're a _different_ vet.

With that: allergies and sinus irritation can have a lot of different causes. As a human with a nose that's sometimes difficult to ignore, here are some things that I've learned can help. If you want to really try to figure out the environmental cause of the issue, try addressing all of these (maybe in one closed room), along with the items you listed (dustless litter, etc.), to see if they make a difference.

- Humidity - The "hang out while you're showering" idea is related to this, but if you want to go further, just try having the cat hang out in a closed room with a humidifier.

- Unscented items - Clothing, carpet cleaners, bed linens, room air fresheners/diffusers, pet shampoos, perfumes, toiletries worn by humans.

- Mold you haven't found yet, maybe behind a baseboard, in some kind of fabric, under a leaky something-or-other, around a tub or clothes washer, or wafting in from outside.

- General dust (unlikely given your description, but I sometimes feel better just from dusting and changing the sheets). Under the couch. Under the bed. On her toys. On the floor.

- Something picked up from outside.

- Another animal in the house.

- Various strong chemicals, like cleaners that "smell fresh". If you're using a flea collar, try removing that.

- Wiping down the cat every day with a warm wet washcloth (this is to benefit me generally, but I'd try it anyway with the cat just in case there's something on her fur from _somewhere_)

My partner had "non-allergic rhinitis" that was caused by a foreign body in his nose. I don't know how a vet can check for that, but there's probably a way, right?
posted by amtho at 9:53 AM on January 23

We've got a kitty that came with a bad case of feline herpes, and it flares up from time to time. When it's bad - and it can get pretty bad - we get her some expensive antivirals, and they knock it right back down. Doesn't cure it, though, and we'll be doing this for the rest of her life.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:53 AM on January 23

I always know when it's allergy season because both my cat and I get stuffed up and start sneezing. My cat doesn't have it as bad as many of the cases described here, but he has had periods when he was pretty stuffed up. I've tried wiping his nose/eyes with a wet cloth when that happens. When he gets constipated as a result, I put a little vaseline on a paw, which he tries to lick away. This is supposed to be an extremely gentle way to lube the system, and in fact all returns to normal the day after I do this. I've also stuck the cat in the bathroom, closed the door and turned on the shower, so the steam would help unstuff him. Both my cat and I seem to be better with a hot water humidifier going all the time in winter. Finally, I've read you can use a baby bulb, a tiny gizmo for sucking the snot out of the noses of tiny creatures, but I haven't tried it because I'm sure my cat would hate it.
posted by Violet Blue at 10:00 AM on January 23

In a human, one good answer to congestion is "drink more water!" - any way you can get more water into your cat?
posted by aniola at 1:46 PM on January 23

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! She's got a pretty chill life. We've tried lysine before with no real effect but we'll try that and the steam trick again and see if that helps.
posted by Garm at 2:28 PM on January 23

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