Runny nose in cats

A runny nose in cats is a common symptom that can be caused by various diseases in the upper respiratory tract. Some of these diseases, such as a viral infection, can be mild and easy to treat. However, others may be more serious, such as a tumour in the nose.

The medical name for a runny nose is nasal discharge. The discharge can be anything from thick snot to blood or clear fluid. Cats of any age can develop a runny nose, but certain causes are more prevalent at specific stages of life. A runny nose is not normally a medical emergency unless your cat is losing a lot of blood or has problems breathing.


What to do

What to do if your cat has a runny nose

If your cat develops a runny nose, try to monitor:

  • The colour and thickness of the discharge
  • If the discharge is from one nostril or both
  • If your cat has any other symptoms, such as eye discharge, sneezing, lethargy, bad breath, swelling around the nose, or any other signs.

It’s important to let your vet know about these signs, as they can narrow down the potential causes of a runny nose.

Mild, clear discharge, in the absence of any other symptoms, may resolve by itself in a few days. For cats that develop thicker discharge or bleeding from the nose, it’s always best to speak to a vet.


Our Joii vets are available 24 hours a day via video call for advice. 



The most common causes of a runny nose in cats

  • Infections: viral (herpes and calicivirus) or bacterial (chlamydia)
  • Allergies, especially environmental: usually clear discharge with sneezing and red eyes
  • Sweat: when the body is trying to cool itself down
  • Foreign objects stuck on the nasal passage, such as a grass blade or insect
  • Dental disease
  • Mass or polyp in the nasal passage
  • Blood clotting disorders, caused by toxins like rat poison or inherited conditions


When to worry

When you should be worried about a runny nose in cats

Take your cat to a vet if they:

  • Are bleeding from the nose
  • Have a thick, green discharge from the nose
  • Have a runny nose and other symptoms like not eating, vomiting or swelling around the nose

Call us and speak to one of our Joii vets if your cat:

  • Has a mild, clear discharge
  • Has started sneezing
  • Has runny eyes or symptoms of allergies



Tips on how to prevent a runny nose in cats

Not all causes of a runny nose in cats are preventable, but you can help your cat by:

  • Keeping them up-to-date with vaccinations and parasite preventatives
  • Making sure the house is as dust free as possible, use a dust- and scent-free litter
  • Avoiding smoking in the house
  • Avoiding other triggers, such as perfumes, incense, candles, and high pollen counts
  • Brushing their teeth regularly and getting dental work done when recommended by your vet
  • Keeping them indoors, if possible, will prevent some allergic and infectious causes



Diagnosis of a runny nose in cats

Your vet will usually start by asking about your cat’s medical history and doing a thorough physical exam.

Diagnostic tests that may be needed:

  • Blood tests, including clotting factors
  • Testing for infectious diseases
  • Swab and culture of the discharge or from the nasal passage
  • Imaging, such as x-rays or a CT scan
  • Rhinoscopy and biopsy of tissues


Home treatment

How to treat a runny nose in cats at home

While most cases of runny noses need prescription medication to resolve, you can also help at home by:

  • Using a humidifier or taking your cat into a steamy room
  • Gently cleaning any discharge around the nose to prevent crusting and build-up
  • Avoiding triggers where possible, such as strong scents from perfumes or cleaning products, and irritants such as cigarette smoke
  • Making sure they have easy access to fresh water
  • Feeding a soft food can help improve their appetite, particularly if they have throat pain. Diets such as Hills Prescription Diet i/d or a/d are soft and palatable.


Vet treatment

Vet treatment for a runny nose in cats

Treatment of a runny nose in cats will depend on the diagnosis. Possible treatments include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Pain relief
  • Anti-inflammatory medication or antihistamines
  • Medication to reduce mucus in the respiratory tract (mucolytic)
  • Surgery, such as removing a foreign object, or dental work



Are some cats more at risk of a runny nose than others?

Any age or breed of cat can develop a runny nose. Underlying causes can be more likely at certain ages or in some breeds:

  • Dental disease is more common in middle-aged and elderly cats
  • Breeds with short noses (Brachycephalic) are more prone to respiratory problems
  • Non-vaccinated cats are at a higher risk of viral causes


Other causes of a runny nose in cats

Nasal mites: these are not common in the UK but can be found in some areas of Europe

Cleft palate: kittens born with a hole between the mouth and nasal passage

Megaoesophagus: a condition where the muscle of the oesophagus (food pipe) is less mobile than normal

Trauma: leading to a nose bleed

Ciliary dyskinesia: a rare congenital condition

Nasopahryngeal stenosis: uncommon condition where there is narrowing of the nasal passages

Fungal infections, such as Aspergillosis: uncommon in the UK

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