About runny nose in cats

Written by brynne chandler
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About runny nose in cats
(Image courtesy of Gypsy48 on Photobucket.)

To cat lovers, felines are much more than mere pets. While few things are more worrisome than seeing that your cat is under the weather, with an early diagnosis the two most dangerous causes of a runny nose can be treated successfully. While it's always possible that your cat's runny nose is not due to a serious illness, it's best to be sure by taking your cat to the veterinarian for a thorough exam.

Viral Causes

There are several viruses that cause runny noses in cats, the two most prevalent being feline calicivirus and feline herpesvirus. Feline calicivirus affects approximately half the feline population, but occurs most often in cats who live in shelters and kennels. It can be passed on through the air, orally and through parasites. Feline herpesvirus can be transmitted through direct contact as well as though the air and it can lead to pneumonia in kittens. Both viruses tend to present a clear discharge at first.

Other Causes

Small things like grass and pebbles that get inhaled and embedded in a cat's sinus can also cause a runny nose. Nasal polyps are another possible cause. The discharge in these cases would tend to be thick, dark-coloured and sometimes a little bloody.


Isolating the cause of your cat's runny nose is best left to a veterinarian. Clinical symptoms are the surest guideline because most cats carry both feline calicivirus and feline herpesvirus naturally in their blood. Both viruses cause lethargy, runny noses, conjunctivitus, loss of appetite and sneezing. Feline calicivirus can also cause mouth ulcers, while feline herpesvirus is often accompanied by a fever. Since visual examination is the only way to accurately diagnose a sinus obstruction or polyp, and most cats will not take kindly to an examination of this sort, it is best to let the vet handle it.


There is no specific antiviral treatment for feline calicivirus, but symptoms can be treated with antibiotics and corticosteroids. If your cat is given a course of corticosteroids, he must be watched very closely to make sure that they don't exacerbate an upper respiratory infection. There is also no specific treatment for feline herpesvirus, though a 2006 study by Karen van der Muelen and her colleagues at the Laboratory of Virology in Belgium found that that ganciclovir, PMEDAP and cidofovir are effective in treating this virus. L-lysine is also effective in treating the eye problems caused by the virus. A runny nose caused by an obstruction is treated by removing the obstruction, whether it is a foreign object or polyps, and administering oral or topical antibiotics for any resulting infection.

Recovery and Prevention

Feline calicivirus and feline herpesvirus are both highly contagious, so it is important to quarantine an infected cat from healthy ones. You must also administer the entire amount of antibiotics prescribed, even if the symptoms have cleared up. This will keep the virus from mutating into a stronger strain. Feline calicivirus can live for weeks on inert surfaces, so give any areas where your cat spends time a thorough cleaning with a solution of bleach, water and detergent. Feline herpesvirus dies after 18 hours, and can be killed with most household disinfectants. There are vaccines available for both viruses, so consult your veterinarian about the best way to protect your cats. Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent your cat from developing nasal polyps or from inhaling small objects.

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