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Nasal Discharge and Nasal Infections in Cats

A discharge from your cat’s nose that persists for several hours indicates a problem. It is important to recognize early signs of illness, because professional attention may be required.

  • A watery discharge with sneezing is caused by local irritation or allergic rhinitis. It can also appear early on in a cat with a viral infection.
  • A mucoid discharge is characteristic of viral respiratory disease complex.
  • A thick yellow, purulent, or puslike discharge suggests bacterial infection.

Very often a discharge will start out as fluid but will progress to mucoid and then purulent. This may be due to a progression of various infectious agents.

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A discharge from both nostrils, often accompanied by fever, loss of appetite, eye discharge, drooling, coughing, or sores in the mouth suggests a feline viral respiratory disease. When both nostrils are blocked by swollen membranes, the cat sniffles, breathes noisily, and may breathe through his mouth. Because cats avoid mouth breathing whenever possible, you may see this sign only when the cat exercises. Any cat who is breathing through the mouth should be examined by a veterinarian.

Foreign bodies usually cause a discharge from just one nostril. This discharge can range from bloody to purulent. Allergic rhinitis usually affects both nostrils and the discharge is often serous.

Tumors, fungal infections, and chronic bacterial infections erode the nasal membranes producing a blood-tinged or bloody discharge. One or both nostrils may be involved. Cryptococcus is the most common fungal infection in the nose of cats. When there is blood in the discharge, the cat needs to see a veterinarian.

Nasal Infections

Bacterial infections become established when the lining of the nose has been injured by a foreign body or nasal trauma or by a prior viral respiratory disease. Nasal infections can cause sneezing, nasal discharge, noisy breathing, and mouth breathing. When nasal congestion interferes with the ability to smell, the cat loses his appetite and stops eating.

On occasion, infection spreads to the nasal cavity from the frontal sinus. This is often associated with an infected tooth root. Nasal infections can also be secondary to tumors in the nasal cavity. The chief sign of bacterial involvement is a nasal discharge that is mucoid, creamy yellow, or puslike. A bloody discharge indicates deep involvement with ulceration of the nasal membrane. The cat may also have a fever and may not be eating well.

The feline viral respiratory disease complex is the most common cause of nasal infection. Eighty to 90 percent of cats who recover from an infection become carriers of herpesvirus or calicivirus. During periods of stress, immunity breaks down and the disease is reactivated. Calicivirus may be shed almost continuously, without clinical signs, which means the cat can infect other cats. In some cases, the nasal infection is mild; in others there is a chronic, mucopurulent discharge from the eyes and nose. Chlamydia (also called Chlamydophila) infections rank second to viruses for causing feline nasal infections.

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