Why Your Cat's Nose Is Running (& How to Help)

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Should you be worried if your cat's nose is running? It really depends on the situation. The truth is that while some runny noses can be easily treated, it is sometimes indicative of a larger health issue. Read on to learn what causes runny noses in cats and to find out when you should take your cat to the veterinarian for treatment.

Why Your Cat's Nose Is Running

If your kitty has a runny nose, it's likely due to inflammation, trauma or infection of the tissues in their nasal cavities or sinuses.

But if your cat is consistently snotty, then they could have an upper respiratory infection. Most upper respiratory infections in cats are caused by viruses, like herpes viruses and caliciviruses, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual. Bacterial infections are the second most common cause of runny noses, which include Chlamydophila felis and Bordetella bronchiseptica. Thankfully, if your cat has had their recommended vaccines their risk of contracting these infections is dramatically diminished.

Beyond simple upper respiratory infections, though — most of which are mild and don't require treatment—there are a number of possible explanations for why your cat's nose is running, including:

  • Rhinitis: In general, rhinitis refers to the inflammation of the nasal passages, which leads to a runny nose. Rhinitis can be caused by an upper respiratory tract infection, bacteria, a virus, and, less commonly, fungus. Allergies are also a possibility, but they're not an especially common cause of rhinitis in cats.
  • Foreign bodies: When a cat inhales a foreign body, whether a piece of food or a strand of yarn, they can get a runny nose with colored discharge.
  • Nasal cancer: This type of cancer can be aggressive in cats. In its early stages, it can lead to a simple runny nose, but may eventually progress to facial swelling, thick or colored discharge, pain and congestion, among other signs.
  • Bloody nose: Clotting problems, cancer, foreign bodies or an inflammatory disorder can lead to a bloody nose.
  • Trauma: Blows to the nose can cause bloody discharge that turns clear as the swelling subsides. Nasal discharge resulting from trauma can also become infected and turn greenish-yellow.
  • Toxic irritants: Exposure to toxins can lead to severe nasal irritation and inflammation, which can, in turn, lead to a runny nose.
  • Nasal polyps: Benign growths can cause persistent sneezing, congestion and a runny nose.

Close-up on a brown cat's nose.

When to Take Your Cat to the Vet

Just because your cat's nose is running doesn't necessarily mean you need to dash off to the vet. In most cases, a runny nose is part of the normal nasal clearing process and/or the result of an infection that will clear up on its own.

The most common signs in cats with runny noses include sneezing, nasal discharge, red and runny eyes, coughing, oral or nasal ulcers, sniffles, fever and hoarseness. These common signs tend to accompany upper respiratory tract infections and often warrant a trip to the vet to ensure you can get your cat back to healthy.

More problematic signs you should be on the lookout for include severe eye swelling, bloody or greenish discharge, extreme lethargy, a high fever, poor appetite and difficulty breathing. Cats with these signs may just have a nasty cold, but they're also more likely to have bronchopneumonia or even cancer. Take your cat to their vet right away if you notice any of these signs. Early treatment can make a big difference.

Cat Runny Nose Treatment

If you have concerns about your cat's runny nose, then you should always consult your veterinarian. While sometimes a runny nose is just a runny nose, the potential of it being a greater health concern is worth getting an expert opinion to help keep your kitty feeling happy and healthy.

As with any cat health issue, the vet first needs to determine the cause before making treatment recommendations. Your cat's vet can pinpoint what's causing their runny nose by conducting nasal discharge analysis and blood tests. If they determine that treatment is necessary, they may prescribe an antibiotic or another medication to help clear the nasal passages and alleviate congestion. They may also recommend using a nebulizer machine that delivers medicine through a vapor.

While runny noses are often harmless, know that even severely snotty cats can often be effectively treated.

Contributor Bio

Dr. Patty Khuly

Dr. Patty Khuly is an honors graduate of both Wellesley College and the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. She received her MBA at The Wharton School of Business as part of the prestigious VMD/MBA dual-degree program. She's now the proud owner of Sunset Animal Clinic in Miami, Florida. But that's not all. Dr. K is a nerdy reader, avid knitter, hot yoga fanatic, music geek, struggling runner, and indefatigable foodie. She lives in South Miami with three dogs, countless cats, two rescued goats and a hilarious flock of hens.

You can follow her writing at DrPattyKhuly.com and at SunsetVets.com.

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