Cat Nose – All About Your Cat’s Nose

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The cat's nose

The nose is a part of your cat’s respiratory system, and its role is to take in (inhale) and push out (exhale) air.

Nose anatomy:

  • External nares (nostrils) which are separated by the bony septum
  • Nasal planum (where the nose leather/nostrils are located)
  • Philtrum, the line that runs from down nasal planum and between the lips
  • Nasal cavity and the turbinates, which are thin, scroll-like bones within the nasal cavity that filter out dust and warm and humidify incoming air. These bones are lined with a mucous membrane known as the mucociliary blanket which contains blood vessels and nerves. This traps bacteria and irritants and is your cat’s first line of defence against infection.

The sense of smell is already developed when the kitten is born. Each kitten can distinguish not only the smell of their mother but also locate the nipple by scent. Most kittens have a preferred nipple they will nurse.

Smell is extremely important for your cat’s appetite. If he can’t smell, he will not eat. Upper respiratory infections which tend to block the nose can cause your cat to lose his sense of smell. It is important to keep the nose clean of discharge and if he is off his food, try warming it which makes the smell somewhat stronger.

Cat nose shape

The shape of a cat’s noses varies. From the snub of the Persian and Exotic to the long “Roman nose” of the Birman cat. You will often see the term nose break or nose stop used to describe the shape of the nose on certain cat breeds.

Your cat’s sense of smell

The cat’s sense of smell (also known as olfaction) is considerably better than that of humans but not as good as the dog’s. Scent plays several roles for the cat:

  • Cats also use scent glands to mark territory
  • A female in heat will give off odours to let males in the area know she is receptive to mating
  • Enhances the sense of taste
  • Serves to warn the cat if food is off

Wet or dry nose?

A cat’s nose can be wet or dry depending on many factors such as humidity, temperature etc. A dry nose can be an indicator your cat isn’t well and may be dehydrated or running a fever, but it’s not a definitive diagnosis. A perfectly healthy cat may also have a dry nose under the right conditions (low humidity for example). If you are worried your cat’s nose is dry, and he may be sick, look for other signs such as loss of appetite, lethargy etc., which are more accurate indicators.

Smells cats don’t like

Cats don’t like strong odours, which is why cat carers should avoid cleaning products with strong odours in their litter trays. The residual smell can put cats off using the trays.

Cats have a strong dislike of the following smells:

  • Citrus
  • Mint
  • Lavender
  • Eucalyptus
  • Tee tree

Nasal discharge

Cats are prone to nasal discharge. It may be thin and watery, thick and mucoid or bloody.  There are several possible causes which may include:

Examining the cat’s nose

Sometimes it will be necessary for your veterinarian to examine your cat’s nose internally. Examination of the nose requires the use of a fine tube known as an endoscope which has a light and a video camera. Due to the invasive nature of the test, general anaesthesia is necessary.

Your cat’s nose leather

The nose leather is the naked skin around the nostrils; the cat’s nose leather is as unique as our fingerprint. The colour of the nose leather depends on your cat’s colour and may be pink, brick red, black, blue, lavender, chocolate or brown.  The nose leather has a dark outline in some breeds, such as the Chinchilla and Burmilla. As you can see in the image at the beginning of this article, some cats even have freckles on their nose.

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