Snorting is a particularly unpleasant sound and often leads owners to question why a cat makes this noise. Snorting can sound alarming – sometimes it even appears as if a cat is struggling to breathe. However, more often than not, snorting is harmless.
Snorting in cats sounds a lot like sneezing. But, unlike the involuntary reaction of sneezing, snorting is a manual reaction that attempts to remove allergens, foreign matter, or irritants caused by respiratory infections or viruses from the nasal passage. It is more common in brachycephalic breeds with short skulls and narrow nostrils. Some cats will also snort to scare off predators or rival cats.
Understanding why your cat makes a snorting sound can offer the peace of mind that nothing is seriously wrong. Or, if you find your cat’s snorting is the sign of a health issue, you can find the right treatment and manage your cat’s problems to ensure it leads a happy, healthy life.
What Does It Mean When Cats Snort?
Snorting is similar to sneezing. When a cat snorts, it expels air out of its mouth and nose. This is usually a manual reaction to an allergen or spec of dirt that has irritated the nasal passage and needs removing. Sinus infections or viruses can also be a cause of snorting.
It’s important to note that, in most cases, snorting is entirely normal. However, if your cat snorts often and cannot seem to stop, something more sinister might be going on.
Disease or Virus
Snorting can be a sign of an upper respiratory disease, including chronic rhinitis. According to a journal on Vin, cats with this condition will often suffer from snorting found with obstructions secondary to secretion accumulation.
To test for chronic rhinitis, vets will hold the affected cat’s mouth and one nostril closed to ensure that the animal can breathe through the open nostril without distress. If there is any change in effort or noise associated with single nostril breathing, there’s likely to be some degree of obstruction. If this is the case, treatment is needed.
Another common virus in cats is feline herpesvirus type 1. This virus is highly contagious, especially in shelters that house lots of animals in close proximity. Most cats are exposed as kittens and are usually infected by the mother cat at birth.
Exposure to feline herpes results in cats becoming life-long carriers and can, therefore, infect other felines. Vaccination can help the problem, along with the following safety measures:
- Keep your cat indoors wherever possible to prevent it from coming into contact with infected cats
- Keep up to date with your cat’s injections
- Maintain a stress-free environment for your pet to live in
- Isolate your cat if it becomes unwell – especially if there are other animals in the household
- Wash your hands thoroughly when handling multiple cats
A nasopharyngeal polyp is a benign mass that develops in the middle ear – the compartment just behind the eardrum. As VCA Hospitals describes, nasopharyngeal polyps can impact a cat’s breathing, and as they grow and expand, they may partially block the cavity at the back of the mouth.
The polyps then obstruct the airflow, causing affected cats to develop a distinctive snorting sound as they breathe.
Snorting is more common in brachycephalic cat breeds. This is because their short skulls, narrowed nostrils, and soft palates put them at a higher risk of respiratory illness. They also have tracheas that are more prone to collapse.
These attributes mean that brachycephalic cats, like Persians and Himalayans, tend to snort more often than other breeds. A study published on Plos One confirmed that the shortness of a cat’s skull has a significant impact on increased respiratory difficulty and the noises that these cats make. Sounds such as snorting are likely to be louder and more frequent.
Cats snort as a form of self-defense to scare away their adversaries. To do so, they open their mouths and exhale sharply. This is to frighten off potential predators and other animals that are a threat, including animals who threaten to invade a cat’s territory or cause harm.
Snorting, in this instance, sounds very similar to spitting if the cat expels air very quickly. Cats can emit this sound from around 3-weeks old but will only do so if necessary – usually after feeling threatened by something. Kittens will also test out the noises they make from a young age.
When Is a Cat’s Snorting a Problem?
While snorting is common and rarely cause for concern, it can sometimes be the sign of an underlying health issue that could do with being looked out. If you notice any of the following, seek professional advice.
- Snorting accompanied by congestion or cold symptoms that don’t get better without treatment
- Your cat seems to snort in specific areas of your living space. This might mean it is allergic to something in the area
- Your cat has developed excessive eye and nasal discharge that doesn’t go away
- Your cat is snorting more regularly and aggressively. A foreign object might have become lodged in the nasal or throat passage
- The animal seems generally unwell, which could be indicated by tiredness, dehydration, or weight loss
How to Prevent Snorting in Cats
While snorting may be caused by unseen allergens or is a natural part of a cat’s genetics, there are always things that can be done to lessen the impact and keep it as comfortable as possible.
Snorting might be an irritating noise for some cat owners, but ultimately, a cat’s health should be prioritized. To help with your pet’s snorting issues, try the following:
Clean Living Space
If dust or other allergens are causing your cat’s snorting, try to keep your living space as clean as possible to minimize dust particles or foreign matter that may aggravate the throat and nasal passages and make the snorting worse.
Cleaning with as few chemicals as possible or choosing eco-friendly cleaning materials will also reduce the amount of pollution in the air and help your cat adapt to its surroundings. When you do clean, keep your cat outside or in another room until the dust re-settles and becomes dormant.
When a cat digs around in its litter tray while soiling or urinating, dust particles are often disturbed, which are, in turn, inhaled. This is an issue because dusty litter is a common cause of irritation to the throat and nasal passages.
Cats that are allergic to litter or suffer from asthma are usually worse affected. Snorting is a reaction from this irritation. Furthermore, if your cat’s litter tray is housed in a confined space or features a hood, the irritation will be more significant.
Traditional non-clumping litter, including clay, is known to be incredibly dusty. Switching to a hypoallergenic litter, or one that is low on dust particles will help ease your cat’s litter-related snorting.
If your cat is snorting because it is congested or suffers from asthma, you can ease the discomfort that causes its snorting by bringing the animal into the bathroom when you have a hot shower. This technique is called steam nebulization.
When you enter the bathroom, make sure all doors and windows are closed and run a shower hot enough to steam up the room. Once the room is filled with steam, keep your cat in there for around 10-15 minutes to breathe in the moisture-filled air. The dewy air will help relieve sinus congestion and allow your cat to breathe more easily.
Depending on veterinary advice, you might need to follow steam nebulization with coupage. This is a technique in which you pat your cat’s chest gently to loosen fluid trapped within the lungs. Coupage can help to promote coughing for your cat to bring up the loosened secretions.
Is Reverse Sneezing the Same as Snorting?
A reverse sneeze is a forceful inhalation that occurs when a cat sucks air into its pharynx and windpipe. During a reverse sneeze, the soft palate goes into a spasm and makes a loud noise that sounds like choking. At this point, a cat owner will panic because it seems like their pet is unable to catch its breath.
Much like snorting, a reverse sneeze can be triggered by allergens, dust, or other irritants that affect the pharynx and soft palate. But it can also occur if a cat eats or drinks too quickly. Brachycephalic and small cat breeds are most at risk, but reverse sneezing can happen to all felines and usually does at least once in their lives.
The most important thing that a pet owner can do is not panic. A reverse sneeze only lasts for around 30 seconds and sounds much worse than it actually is. After this time, the sneeze will stop on its own. Treatment is rarely required. While scary, a pet should be left alone to catch its breath. It might even act as if nothing happened afterwards.
In comparison, snorting is different in that it doesn’t usually happen in quick succession. A cat will often only snort a couple of times to remove the irritant. After this, the reaction is over.
What’s The Difference Between Sneezing and Snorting?
It’s helpful to be able to determine when a cat is snorting as opposed to sneezing, as human intervention might be needed to relieve the irritation in your cat’s nasal passage.
A sneeze can be described as a sudden, involuntary outflow of air through the mouth and nose from the lungs. It’s usually an automatic, uncontrollable response to an upper airway’s irritation, including a simple nose tickle or congestion caused by a virus.
On the other hand, snorting looks and sounds like a sneeze, but the difference is that it is a voluntary process to try and manually remove the same irritants as mentioned above. Snorting is often carried out by a cat because the sneeze hasn’t come naturally, so a cat will take matters into its own hands to remove the irritant.
Both sneezing and snorting can be the sign of disease, virus, or infection, and should be checked out if it doesn’t clear up naturally after a few days.
When Do Cats Snort at Other Cats?
If a cat feels threatened by another cat, either because it’s invading its territory or preparing to attack, a cat will make a series of noises, including snorting and hissing. This is to try and scare the predator animal away. These sounds are usually accompanied by a wildly swishing tail and pressed-back ears as the cat attempts to assert its dominance.
When confronted by another cat, snorting is probably less frequent than growling. But when a cat is scared, startled, or angry, it will vocalize these feelings of distress by any means necessary to gain the upper hand and scare its rival off.
Cat Snorts When Breathing
If a cat snorts while breathing, cat asthma might be to blame. Cat asthma manifests itself as large, deep, heaving breaths. It’s often accompanied by regular coughing or wheezing. Feline asthma is when the lower airways become inflamed when triggered by allergens, which can result in difficulty breathing. A cat will make a snorting sound as it tries to catch its breath.
Brachycephalic breeds might snort if they are excited. Exerting a significant amount of energy – for example, climbing a fence or chasing a bird – will also cause a brachycephalic cat to snort.
This is simply due to genetics. Their flat faces and short nasal passages cause affected cats to snort when air is moved quickly through their nostrils. It sounds like they are struggling to breathe, but it should only last a few short minutes and is usually harmless.
Cat Snorts When Eating
Some cats emit a type of snorting sound when they eat. This can be a cause of concern for cat owners, as it can sound like their pet is struggling to breathe as it feeds.
The worst-case scenario for this is dysphagia. This is a medical term given to a cat that has difficulty swallowing. It can occur in the mouth, the pharynx, or at the far end of the pharynx entering the esophagus.
Dysphagia has many causes, including dental disease, tongue paralysis, or an inability to open the mouth. Affected cats will eat with their heads tilted to one side and will repeatedly attempt to swallow to keep the food down. Gagging will follow. This is also when snorting will occur as the cat either tries to stop itself from being sick or keep the food down.
In most cases, if a cat snorts while eating, it is suffering from a blocked or congested nose and is finding it difficult to breathe. Cat flu or respiratory illness is commonly to blame and will need monitoring in case the condition worsens.
In the meantime, hand-feeding a cat who is struggling to eat is the best cause of action. This will prevent the animal from burying its face into its feeding bowl and help the cat maintain the desired eating posture.
So, rest assured that snorting is common in cats. It doesn’t always sound pleasant and can sound worse than the issue, but it’s important not to worry. Monitoring your cat’s snoring is always advised, as potential health issues can be identified and treated straight away.