Nasal Discharge (Runny Nose) in Cats – Causes & Treatment

nasal discharge in cats

Also known of as a runny nose or post nasal drip, nasal discharge is a common disorder in cats and a sign of an underlying condition. Nasal discharge may be clear (serous), grey/cloudy (mucoid), thick and green (purulent) or bloody. It may be acute or chronic with one or both nostrils involved.

Causes of nasal discharge in cats:

There are many possible causes of nasal discharge in cats, the most common being due to an upper respiratory infection. This is seen most often in kittens.

  • Upper respiratory infection (cat flu) – Caused by one of several viruses or bacteria, URI’s typically produce cold-like symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing, eye discharge etc.
  • Nasal polyps – Reasonably rare in cats, polyps are benign growths which arise from the mucous membranes.
  • Bacterial infection – Bacterial infection commonly occurs after a bout of cat flu which damages the lining within the nasal cavity, allowing bacteria to take hold. This is known as post-viral rhinitis.
  • Fungal infection (cryptococcus, aspergillosis).
  • Nasal tumours – The most common nasal tumours are malignant, facial swelling is also common.
  • Head trauma.
  • Foreign objects in the nasal cavity – Such as grass seeds. This will generally produce a nasal discharge from one nostril.
  • Allergies – Allergic causes may include food, pollens, dust, moulds and chemicals (perfumes, household sprays etc). Other symptoms may include facial itchiness, paw rubbing, and hair loss. Allergies may be seasonal.
  • Cleft palate – This is a congenital deformity which is the result of the roof of the mouth not fusing while the kitten is developing.
  • Cheyletiellosis (walking dandruff) – Tiny, spider-like mites which usually live on the skin of the cat but can sometimes go into the nasal cavity.
  • Tooth root abscesses – A localised collection of pus which is located in the tooth or surrounding tissues.
  • Pneumonia – Inflammation of the lungs which is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection.

How is the cause of nasal discharge diagnosed?

Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination of your cat and obtain a medical history from you. He may be able to make a diagnosis based on symptoms, type of nasal discharge and history alone. Tumours, abscesses may cause facial swelling and deformities, cat flu will accompany other symptoms such as mouth ulcers, eye discharge, sneezing. Clear nasal discharge may be the result of allergies. If the discharge contains blood, fungal infection or tumour may be the cause. Discharge from one nostril may be caused by a foreign object (which may contain pus and/or blood), nasal tumour or a dental abscess.

Your veterinarian may wish to perform diagnostic tests, some of which may include.

  • X-Ray or CT – To view the inner structures of the nasal cavity. May show cancer, fungal infection, dental abscess.
  • Nasal and throat swab – Examination of the nasal discharge under a microscope to check for signs of fungal infection.
  • Endoscopy – Examination of the nose and mouth using a fine tube a biopsy may be taken and evaluated for the presence of cancer cells, foreign object or infection.
  • Baseline tests such as biochemical profile, complete blood count and urinalysis to determine the overall health of your cat.

How is nasal discharge treated?

Treatment is aimed at addressing the underlying cause of nasal discharge. This may include:

  • Most cases of cat flu are due to viral infection and most cats are given supportive care while they fight off the infection. This may include fluids for dehydration, encouraging him to eat, keeping the nose and eyes free of discharge.
  • Surgery to remove nasal polyps.
  • Antibiotics for bacterial infection including pneumonia along with supportive care.
  • Removal of foreign body.
  • Anti-fungal medication to treat fungal infections.
  • Surgery to remove nasal polyps.
  • Removal or avoidance of the allergen, if one can be determined.
  • Antibiotics to treat a dental abscess,  tooth extraction may be necessary.
  • Removal of a foreign object.
  • There are a number of medications and treatment options for Cheyletiellosis, which includes Ivermectin and lime sulfur dips. All pets will need to be treated and bedding thoroughly washed.
  • Surgery and chemotherapy or radiation therapy to treat cancer.
  • If allergy is suspected, testing may be required and eliminate the possible cause if that is possible or at least reduce exposure to the allergen.

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