Runny Nose in Cats: 8 Causes to Consider

Closeup of cat's nose

Cats can suffer from runny noses, just like humans. And just like in humans, many times it’s nothing to worry about. However, some causes of runny noses in cats can be quite severe and require medical intervention. 

Read on to learn the most common causes of runny noses in cats, how to treat your cat’s runny nose, when your cat should see the veterinarian, and how you can prevent your cat from developing a runny nose. 

What Does a Cat Runny Nose Look Like?

A runny nose in cats is fairly easy to spot. Usually, these cats will have clear discharge from one or both nostrils. Depending on the cause, the discharge can also be green or yellow, and less commonly, it can have a red tinge. 

Cats with a runny nose will often also be sneezing and may have audible nasal congestion, meaning that you can hear them breathing. Some cats may also experience discharge from their eyes at the same time, resulting in squinting, and others may have nasal swelling.

Since cats rely heavily on their sense of smell in order to taste, some cats with a heavily runny nose may have a loss of appetite. If the nasal discharge has been ongoing, this can result in weight loss of affected cats. 

My Cat Has a Runny Nose: 8 Common Causes

There are many causes of runny noses in cats. Usually, these are self-limiting, meaning they will resolve without treatment, but some causes of cat runny noses are more severe.

The most common causes of nasal discharge in cats include:

Upper Respiratory Infections

Upper respiratory infections, deemed URIs for short, are most often caused by feline viruses. Occasionally, URIs can be caused by bacterial infections, and some cats may even develop a secondary opportunistic bacterial infection due to their initial viral infection. Much less commonly, URIs are the result of a fungal infection. The most common viruses resulting in feline URIs are feline herpesvirus type-1 and feline calicivirus. These are common in cats adopted from a shelter setting or other crowded conditions where viruses are easily spread. 


Just like humans can be left sniffling and sneezing after exposure to allergens, so can our feline friends. The most common cat allergens include pollen, dust mites, mold, perfumes, scented candles, kitty litter, and even animal dander. 

Dental Disease

The roots of the premolars and molars in cats are closely positioned to their sinuses and nasal cavity. Therefore, severely diseased teeth can result in inflammation and irritation to the nasal cavity followed by nasal discharge. Some cats can even develop painful draining tracts between the oral and nasal cavity if the dental disease is bad enough. 

Nasal Polyps

Nasal polyps are benign growths of tissue that develop within the nasal passage of cats. These growths occlude the nasal cavity and result in a runny nose and loud stertorous breathing. Many times, these cats can be misdiagnosed for having a URI which doesn’t respond to treatment. 

Foreign Bodies

Curious cats can occasionally wind up with something lodged in their nasal cavity that shouldn’t be there. Grass awns, pieces of food, small sticks/twigs, etc. can all accidentally make their way up a cat’s nostril. Cats lack the ability to remove these objects themselves, and the result is an irritated and inflamed nasal cavity and subsequent nasal discharge. 

Nasal Tumors

Cancerous growths can occur in and around the nasal cavity. These growths distort the nasal passages and/or surrounding structures and the first sign is typically nasal discharge from one or both nostrils, depending on the location of the lesion. 

Toxic Irritants

When a cat inhales something that can irritate the nasal passage, like toxins, the result is inflammation and a secondary runny nose. Common toxic irritants that result in a runny nose are household cleaners, certain house plants, and secondhand cigarette smoke.


Any damage to a cat’s face and/or nose can result in nasal discharge. Facial trauma is seen in cats mostly after a fall, a tussle with another animal, or having their face shut in a door accidentally. However, any physical accident involving the head can result in secondary nasal discharge in addition to other symptoms like limping. 

Treating a Cat’s Runny Nose

Vet tech wiping cat nose

Treatment of a cat’s runny nose depends on the cause. In very mild cases of nasal discharge when cats are acting like themselves otherwise (still eating, drinking, and playing normally), treatment usually isn’t necessary. 

However, medical intervention is recommended when nasal discharge is colored as opposed to clear; is accompanied by lethargy, anorexia, facial swelling, or weight loss; or the affected cat is pawing at their face, medical intervention is recommended.

Your veterinarian will likely initiate treatment based on a thorough history and physical exam. In some cases, especially those in which the discharge is only on one side or facial swelling is noted, your veterinarian may need radiographs (X-rays) to help determine the cause. Bloodwork may also be necessary to help guide your cat’s therapy.

Based on the underlying cause, your veterinarian will prescribe antivirals, antibiotics, and/or antifungal medications to help your cat’s stuffy nose. Many cats will benefit from anti-inflammatory therapy to help relieve the inflammation in the nasal cavity, and if allergies are suspected, your cat will be started on antihistamines. 

If your cat has dental disease, a thorough dental cleaning and extraction of the affected teeth is necessary. In the case of nasal polyps or foreign bodies, these can usually be removed under anesthesia in your veterinarian’s office. Nasal tumors will typically require a referral to a veterinary oncologist for treatment with surgery, radiation, and/or chemotherapy. 

Cat Runny Nose Home Remedies

In addition to medications, cat parents can take steps at home to help alleviate their cat’s runny nose. 

Use a humidifier. Humidifiers help dilate the airways and relieve nasal congestion. Be sure to use purified water and do not add essential oils. Creating a steam room in the bathroom by closing the door and running a hot shower can have the same effect. Both of these techniques should be used with supervision. 

Wipe away mucus. Gently clearing away any dried mucus around the nasal passages can help cats breathe. 

Try a saline solution. For cats who will tolerate saline drops, these can be purchased over the counter and used to help flush out excess mucus. 

Please note that any home remedies for stuffy cat noses are not a replacement for veterinary care, and should only be used for mild cases in otherwise healthy cats, or if otherwise approved by your veterinarian.

How to Prevent Runny Noses in Cats

Preventing a runny nose in cats isn’t always possible. However, there are steps cat parents can take to help keep their cats disease free.

Keeping your cat up to date on their vaccinations will help reduce the chance they will develop certain viral diseases like feline herpesvirus or calicivirus. Cats which are kept indoors are less likely to encounter sick animals and therefore are less likely to be exposed to contagious diseases. These cats are also less likely to experience trauma or develop foreign bodies in their nasal cavity. 

Regularly cleaning your household to remove allergens from your cat’s environment, being mindful of any toxic substances you keep in the home, and never smoking cigarettes indoors around your cat are all additional simple ways to help prevent your cat from developing a runny nose.

Lastly, regular veterinary examinations and dental cleanings are helpful to prevent dental disease, or any other illness for that matter, which may leave your cat with a runny nose. 

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