Nasal Discharge In Cats

One of the two viruses that are responsible for disorders of the upper respiratory tract can lead to the development of a chronic viral nasal disease in cats. The feline rhinotracheitis virus (FVR) and the feline calici virus (FCV) are both highly contagious diseases that can spread quickly. In clinical settings, distinguishing between these two viruses for the sake of diagnosis and therapy is not necessary.

Symptoms and Causes

The typical signs associated with chronic viral disease include sneezing, bilateral nasal discharge, nasal bleeding, increased breathing sounds, and discharge from the eyes. Any bleeding associated with viral disease is usually very minimal; however, if nasal bleeding becomes extreme, it may be suggestive of a tumor.

Nasal discharge from one side of the nose is more typical of a foreign body, tumor, or tooth-root abscess. Moderate to severe bleeding or deformity of the facial bones suggests an erosive process, such as cancer fungal or a foreign body.

To differentiate chronic viral nasal disease from other causes of feline upper-respiratory disease, you must know the past health of the cat. Any previous signs of acute infection would be expected with viral disease. An old injury or prior trauma might have healed externally but resulted in deep bone damage or changes in the nasal anatomy which can lead a patient to be predisposed to nasal disease.


A cat with chronic viral nasal disease is generally in good condition. Chronic viral nasal disease can be diagnosed only by the elimination of other upper respiratory conditions, such as cancer, foreign bodies, bacterial disease, allergic disease, fungal disease, polyps, dental disease, and prior trauma. Not only will this guide your veterinarian in the proper course of treatment, but will also give you an accurate prognosis. If the diagnosis becomes chronic viral nasal disease, you may expect a long-term treatment or potentially negative results.

Your veterinarian will examine the skull and hard palate very carefully, along with an eye examination. The viruses involved in upper-respiratory diseases do not cause mass lesions or inflammation of the inner structures of the eye. If these problems are identified, then viral disease is unlikely.

To rule out the possibility of cancer, the lymph nodes around the cat’s head and neck are also carefully examined. Your veterinarian may also look for a discharge from both sides of the nose or from the cat’s eyes. After antibiotics are discontinued, there may be sneezing and relapse of symptoms. These signs are similar to what would be seen in a cat with a polyp.

If the history suggest a systemic cause, then a complete blood count, serum chemistry profile, urinalysis, and chest x-rays are indicated. These tests should also be done if there is any concern about anesthetic risk for the next phase of the examination.

The second phase of examination involves more aggressive testing, such as skull x-rays, endoscopy, and nasal biopsies to eliminate non-viral causes for the nasal disease. You may or may not want to continue with this aggressive diagnostic path, depending on the severity of clinical signs and the evidence provided by the history, physical examination, and other less invasive tests.


Some form of antibiotic treatment is often prescribed for a cat with chronic viral nasal disease. If the chosen antibiotic is going to be effective, symptoms should improve noticeably in three to five days.

If improvement is evident, your veterinarian will determine the length of time that the antibiotics should be continued. Normally, the dose is tapered off slowly. In some cats, intermittent bouts of sneezing can be controlled by continued administration of low-dose antibiotics.

Symptomatic treatment also includes the use of decongestants, cortisone, and humidification. Your veterinarian will determine the best treatment for your cat. Local decongestant therapy can be very helpful. Local treatment also decreases the chance of systemic side effects. Decongestants can be given topically or orally.

The problem of using cortisone is that it can mask the development of other problems or decrease the ability of the abnormal nasal cavity to cope with infection. Cats who are virus carriers may start actively shedding the virus. Consequently, cortisone should only be used if absolutely necessary and with close monitoring.

Humidification is a very simple way to provide relief to some patients. Increasing the moisture content of the nasal secretions makes it easier for all the material in the nose to drain. Home vaporizers are inexpensive and easily obtainable from local drug stores. Placing the cat in a bathroom while the shower runs may also be helpful.

To increase your cat’s comfort, frequently clean your cat’s face, nose, and eyes with cotton balls and water. You can also heat the food to help your cat smell it and increase the appetite.

Although cats with chronic viral nasal disease are prone to intermittent attacks of upper-respiratory symptoms, they can lead normal lives. As with any chronic disease, open communication with your veterinarian and realistic therapeutic goals are essential.

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