Is Your Cat’s Runny Nose Normal?

Noticed nasal discharge coming from your kitty recently? Is your cat's runny nose normal or something that necessitates a trip to the vet? Let’s look at causes, diagnosis and treatments for your cat's runny nose.

A sick tortoiseshell kitten.
A sick tortoiseshell kitten. Photography ©Angelafoto | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

Is your cat’s runny nose normal or a sign that she’s sick and needs to see a vet? Let’s find out.

Is Your Cat’s Runny Nose a Cause for Concern?

A black and white cat at a vet exam.
Does your cat’s runny nose necessitate a trip to the vet? Photography ©EricoMabellini | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

“Most cats do not normally have nasal discharge,” says Aimee Simpson, VMD, medical director of VCA Cat Hospital of Philadelphia. “That being said, many cats are chronically infected with feline herpesvirus (FHV-1) and these cats may have serous (clear) nasal discharge and/or black debris in the nostrils.”

What’s Causing Your Cat’s Runny Nose?

If you see clear nasal discharge coming from your cat’s nose, this usually indicates that the cat might have a viral infection or allergies. “Colored (usually yellow or green) nasal discharge is due to the presence of white blood cells and dead tissue as occurs with secondary bacterial infections and chronic rhinitis (inflammation of the nose),” Dr. Simpson explains.

The most common cause of a cat’s runny nose is upper respiratory disease complex. “Feline calicivirus (FCV) and feline herpesvirus (FHV-1) are widespread in the feline population,” Dr. Simpson says. “Following an acute viral infection, many cats remain chronically infected and shed virus continuously in the case of FCV or intermittently (with FHV-1).”

Less commonly, a cat’s runny nose might be caused by things other than viral infections. Nasal tumors, a foreign object stuck in the nose or tooth root abscesses can cause nasal discharge in cats. If the discharge is coming from only one side of the nose, or if one side of the face looks swollen, the vet might suspect one of these causes.

How Are Runny Noses in Cats Diagnosed?

If your vet suspects your cat’s runny nose is due to a viral infection, it’s possible to test for different viruses — but this may not be necessary or helpful. “Viral isolation can be done from swabs of the oropharynx or nasal cavity, but many healthy cats are chronic carriers so testing positive for an upper respiratory virus does not necessarily implicate this virus as the cause of the current clinical signs,” Dr. Simpson explains. “Diagnosis and treatment may be based on the patient’s history — for example, adopted from a shelter or recent stress in the household — rather than test results.”

How Will Your Cat’s Runny Nose Get Treated?

If your vet suspects a viral infection, initial treatment of a cat’s runny nose typically includes an antiviral medication and/or antibiotic. Ongoing cases might require some anti-inflammatory steroids.

If the vet treats your cat for a suspected viral infection, but your cat doesn’t respond to the medications, the vet might recommend anesthetizing your cat so she can do an oropharyngeal exam to check for polyps, as well as x-rays, a CT scan or rhinoscopy to check for other masses or tooth root abscesses.

Plus, suffering from a runny nose yourself? Can you really use a neti pot to stop your runny nose? We find out >>

Thumbnail: Photography ©Angelafoto | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

This piece was originally published in 2018.

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12 thoughts on “Is Your Cat’s Runny Nose Normal?”

  1. My cat has a runny nose which is clear,as he has got older he suffers from upper respiratory infections, I think sneezing helps him to shift it out as he chews metal to get his mouth to water and this then makes him sneeze, bless him,in both senses of the words.

  2. My cat has allergies with chronic nasal discharge and is sensitive to dust and maybe other allergens. He does better with non-clay litter but has sneezing attacks when getting used to the furnace running in the fall and AC in early summer. At least he knows how to “blow his nose” now before his nose gets completely stuffed (just wish cats could use tissues).

    1. Hi. Does your cat also shake his/her head when you touch her head? Mine have been checked for mites so that’s not the problem.

  3. Pingback: Is Your Cat’s Runny Nose Normal? – Pet Grooming And Pet Care

  4. My kitty has chronic URI. Have taken her to 4 vets with no cure. Have many tests run and procedures. Just when I think we might be doing well the sneezing begins and the nasal discharge. She is so loving. I hate to see her so uncomfortable. Any suggestions. My vets bills are way over $2,500.

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