Runny Nose in Cats

Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Runny Nose in Cats

The Spruce / Xiaojie Liu

Runny noses can be annoying for cats, but this common occurrence may have many causes. A cat can have a runny nose because of an allergy, upper respiratory infection, or more complex disease. Sometimes a runny nose will clear up on its own, and other times, especially if there are other symptoms present, a trip to the vet will be necessary. Treatment for your cat's running nose depends on the cause.

What is a Runny Nose?

Nasal discharge, or a runny nose, is not an illness itself but a sign of an illness or other health issue. A runny nose is caused by something that irritates or inflames the nasal tissues. Nasal discharge may come from one or both nostrils. It may also switch between nostrils.

Symptoms of Runny Noses in Cats

If your cat has a runny nose, you may or may not notice other signs at the same time. If the nose is running and nothing else seems unusual, it doesn't mean there's not a bigger problem. However, if you see other signs of illness along with nasal discharge, it may be a more urgent issue. Watch for signs of health problems and contact your vet for advice.


  • Nasal discharge
  • Staining or discoloration of the facial fur
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Nasal swelling
  • Eye discharge or other eye issues
  • Pawing at face
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Appetite loss, weight loss, and lethargy

Nasal Discharge

Nasal discharge is often a symptom of an upper respiratory infection. If the discharge has a reddish-brown or greenish tinge may be a sign that the cat has inhaled a foreign substance and it is inflaming its lungs, which is known as aspiration pneumonia. A bloody discharge from the nose may mean many things, such as a trauma to the area, a blood disorder, or something may be lodged in the nasal cavity.

Staining or Discoloration of Facial Fur

A cat with a runny nose will often be able to wipe away the discharge with its paw, but the moisture will leave a matted, stained, or discolored area around the mouth and nose areas.

Nasal Congestion

A runny nose, in conjunction with nasal congestion, may indicate that the cat has pneumonia, as well. Fungal pneumonia, for example, is a condition where the cat has inhaled fungus spores, and it can inflame the lining of the nose and sinuses.


Sneezing, along with thicker nasal discharge, may also be an indication of fungal pneumonia or another type of upper respiratory infection. Sneezing and runny noses may also simply mean the cat is responding with an allergic reaction or developing feline asthma to scents, odors, and particles in the home that come from perfumes, detergents, cleaning products, litter, or even smoke.


A symptom of fungal pneumonia will be a short cough, along with sneezing and nasal congestion.

Nasal Swelling

If the top of the nose is swollen, and there is sneezing and thick nasal discharge, fungus pneumonia could be the culprit.

Eye Discharge

A cat with nose and eye discharge may have specific types of pneumonia. It may also have an eye infection which is irritating the nose, as well.

Pawing at Face

A cat will paw at its face to wipe away the discharge or to "scratch" its nose due to the inflammation it feels. It will also paw at its face if it has an eye infection, which is exacerbated by a runny nose.

Difficulty Breathing

Pneumonia can cause difficulty breathing for the cat due to inflammation of the nasal and sinus linings. A cat's airway can also become compressed as lymph nodes become inflamed due to pneumonia.

Loss of Appetite/Weight Loss/Lethargy

A cat relies on its nose to find and eat its food. If a cat's nose is stuffed up, it may choose not to eat. As a result, the cat will begin to lose weight and become lethargic from not eating.

Causes of Runny Noses

There are many possible reasons for a cat to have a runny nose. Most commonly, nasal discharge in cats occurs as a sign of an upper respiratory problem.

  • Upper respiratory infection (viral, bacterial, fungal)
  • Chronic respiratory disease, such as feline calicivirus (FCV)
  • Trauma to the nasal cavity
  • Polyp, tumor, or foreign body in the nasal canal (usually accompanied by sneezing)
  • Eye problems (eye discharge may lead to excess nasal discharge)
  • Oral and dental problems
  • Ear problems
  • Allergies
  • Toxin exposure

Diagnosing Runny Noses in Cats

If you notice nasal discharge in your cat and there are no other signs of illness, then it's sensible to wait for a day or two to see if the runny nose clears up. If other signs appear, or the runny nose continues for a few days, then your cat will need veterinary attention.

Call your veterinarian to ask about the next steps. If your cat has cold-like signs (nasal discharge and congestion, sneezing, eye discharge) then your vet's office may want to schedule an appointment at a specific time in order to keep other cats away. Many feline upper respiratory infections are highly contagious.

If your cat's signs come on suddenly and appear severe, or if there is bleeding from the nose, it's best to contact your vet's office immediately. If acute signs begin when your vet is closed, then contact an emergency vet for advice. This is especially important if your cat has suffered a trauma.


The first thing your veterinarian will do is perform a thorough examination of your cat. Be sure to share as much information as possible about the signs you have seen at home as well as your cat's current and past medical history. Let your vet know about your cat's environment, diet, and any medications or supplements you are giving your pet.

Your vet may recommend specialized diagnostic and lab testing depending on the outcome of the exam. Here's a list of what will be tested:

  • Organ functions: Basic blood and urine testing will provide information about your cat's organ function and cell counts. Radiographs (X-rays) of your cat's chest will allow the vet to visualize the lungs.
  • Nasal obstructions: Your vet may send your cat to get a rhinoscopy if a nasal mass or foreign body is suspected. A CT or MRI may be necessary if the vet decided to rule out something serious.
  • Infections: If your cat's runny nose is due to an upper respiratory infection, then medications will be necessary to clear it up. This may include antibiotics, antifungal drugs, or steroids depending on the source of the infection. Your vet may want to send samples of the discharge to a lab if more information is needed.

Prognosis for Cats With Runny Noses

For chronic or recurrent problems with nasal discharge, your vet may recommend a consultation with a veterinary specialist. Some types of pneumonia, especially aspiration pneumonia where the cat has inhaled a highly toxic substance, may not respond to treatment.

How to Prevent Runny Noses

The best way to prevent a runny nose in your cat is to try to stop illnesses and injuries from occurring in the first place. Outdoor cats are at a higher risk for injuries and catching contagious infections. Keeping your cat indoors can greatly reduce the risks. Also, be sure your cat is vaccinated on schedule as recommended by your veterinarian.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.