Runny Nose in Cats

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Nasal Discharge in Cats

The throat is the end of the two major air passages that begin at the nostrils. Very fine scrolls of bone called turbinates fill the nasal passages. They have a covering of pink tissue (mucosa), much like the lining of the mouth. As the air passes through the turbinates in the nose, it is warmed and filtered on its way to the lungs. The nasal cavity is separated from the mouth by what we call the “roof” of the mouth, or the hard palate.

The source of a nasal discharge is typically in the upper respiratory organs, such as the nasal cavities, sinuses, and postnasal area. However, if the cat has a swallowing disorder or a digestive tract disease, secretions may be forced into the postnasal area. If the secretions are coming from the eyes, it may be caused by nerve damage to the middle ear.

This nasal discharge may be watery, thick, and mucus-like, or it may have pus or blood in it. (Blood-tinged discharge is a good indicator that there is a blood disorder.) Nasal discharge usually occurs when infectious, chemical, or inflammatory invaders irritate the nasal passages. It may also be from a foreign object that has become lodged in the nose. If your cat has a middle ear disease, it may decrease the normal secretions and cause the body to secrete an abnormal amount of mucus.

Remember that it is normal for cats to sneeze and have a nasal discharge, just as it is for humans. It is only when it becomes severe or chronic that you need to become concerned.

Symptoms of Nasal Discharge

  • Inflamed eyes(s)
  • Reduction in nasal air flow
  • Diseased teeth
  • Secretions or dried discharge on the hair of the muzzle or forelimbs
  • Swelling of face or hard palate (due to tumor or abscess of fourth premolar)
  • Polyp (may be visible on ear exam, or by pushing the soft palate down on oral exam)

Causes of Nasal Discharge

  • Dental disease
  • Infectious agents (i.e., bacteria, fungi, viruses)
  • Foreign bodies (primarily occurring in outdoor animals)
  • Weak immune system
  • Chronic steroid use
  • Chronic pneumonia
  • Chronic vomiting
  • Chronic inflammation of the ear
  • Cancer 

Diagnosis of Nasal Discharge

  • Rhinoscopy (examination of the nasal cavity with a specialized instrument)
  • Dental exam
  • Culture of discharge for fungus and bacteria
  • Biopsy of nasal cavity
  • Bronchoscopy, if discharge has been accompanied by coughing
  • Blood pressure and blood test, including coagulation profile
  • Tear test to evaluate for possible facial nerve damage from chronic ear infections

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