What to Do if Your Cat Has a Runny Nose

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Why would a cat have a runny nose? There are many potential reasons for runny noses in cats. Treatment for your cat's running nose depends on the cause.

Runny Noses in Cats

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.

Signs Associated with Runny Nose 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.

  • Discharge from nose
  • Staining or discoloration of the fur around the mouth and nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Nasal swelling
  • Eye discharge or other eye issues
  • Pawing at face
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss

Causes of Runny Nose in Cats

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
  • 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

What to Do If Your Cat Has a Runny Nose

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, its 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.

Treatment for Runny Nose in Cats

The first thing your veterinarian will do is perform a thorough examination on 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 vet may recommend diagnostic testing depending on the outcome of the exam. 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.

Certain specialized lab tests and imaging may be needed depending on the results of these tests. For example, 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.

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.

For chronic or recurrent problems with nasal discharge, your vet may recommend a consultation with a veterinary specialist.

How to Prevent Runny Noses in Cats

The best way to prevent a runny nose in your cat is to prevent 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 as recommended by your veterinarian.