Q: My cat started sneezing about four weeks ago. Last week, I noticed that her lower lip was swollen. I made a vet appointment, but then cancelled it and tried changing her food and water bowls to stainless steel. She has been extremely vocal to me and follows me everywhere in the house (she is sitting on my chair behind me right now). I hate to spend money on a vet bill for a cat allergy and nothing more, but how can I tell? I have looked online all over the Internet and am more confused than before.
A: Although vets like to find one illness that can explain all of a cat’s symptoms, it sounds like several problems may be occurring simultaneously in your cat. First, the sneezing: The most common cause of sneezing cats is an upper respiratory infection. These are usually caused by a virus, either the herpes virus, the calici virus or both. In addition to your cat’s sneezing, other signs you might see include cats’ watery eyes and nose, drooling, congestion, and decreased appetite. Treatment of URIs requires supportive care with oral antibiotics, antiviral drugs, medicated eye ointments, and nutritional supplements such as the amino acid lysine.
The swollen lip is hard to assess without a picture, but I suspect that your cat either has chin acne or an eosinophilic granuloma. Chin acne is a bacterial infection of the hair follicles. Cat chin acne can cause swelling of the chin, which can sometimes extend to the lower lip. Some people think that a contact allergy to plastic might play a role in cats’ chin acne, and vets recommend that cats switch from plastic food bowls to glass, porcelain or stainless steel. I suspect you read this somewhere online and that’s why you made the switch.
In my experience, cats’ plastic allergy is rarely the cause of chin acne. Another possibility is something called the eosinophilic granuloma complex. The eosinophilic granuloma complex is a group of skin disorders in seen in cats. The skin condition presents itself usually in one of three ways: indolent ulcer, eosinophilic granuloma and eosinophilic plaque. The exact cause is unknown, but people widely believe it’s an allergic reaction in cats. The eosinophilic granuloma form of this condition occasionally presents itself as a cat’s “fat lip” involving the lower lip. Treatment usually involves a short course of anti-inflammatory drugs.
Stop diagnosing things by researching the Internet and take your cat to the vet. The illnesses I described are easy to diagnose and respond well to therapy. Your cat won’t experience any relief from her symptoms unless you take her to the vet.