Nasal Polyps in Cats
Signs of upper respiratory tract problems like nasal discharge and sneezing are relatively common in cats. Oftentimes, signs like these are harmless and resolve on their own with no need for medication or intervention. However, the persistence of these respiratory symptoms can indicate a health problem that may need to be treated by your vet. There are several causes of upper respiratory issues in cats like infections or allergic reactions. Another common, but often difficult to diagnose, cause of upper respiratory problems in cats is nasal polyps. In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into what nasal polyps are, how serious they can be, and how they can be treated or managed.
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What are nasal polyps?
Nasal polyps, also known as nasopharyngeal polyps, are benign, fleshy masses that develop in the nasal passages of a cat. These growths can also be seen at the back of a cat’s throat, inside the middle ear and ear canal, or above the soft palate. Nasal polyps are often seen in younger cats, but older felines can also get them. There has been no observed breed or sex predilection, which means cats of different breeds and sex can develop nasal polyps.
The structure of nasal polyps, especially those that are seen growing from the cat’s nasal passages or ear canals, are composed mainly of fibrous connective tissues and inflammatory cells, an indication that most nasal polyps are inflammatory in nature. Nasal polyps are called by different names, depending on the location where they grow and originate:
- Nasal passage: nasal polyps, nasopharyngeal polyps, inflammatory polyps
- Middle ear polyps
- Ear canal: Oropharyngeal polyps, otic polyps
It is still not known what specifically causes nasal polyp growth in cats, but there’s increasing evidence pointing towards inflammatory responses as the primary precursor. Chronic inflammation of the nasal passages, either due to viral or bacterial infections, can predispose a cat to develop nasal polyps.
Symptoms of Nasal Polyps in Cats
As mentioned above, nasal polyps often cause signs of upper respiratory problems in cats. The severity of clinical signs observed depends on the location and the size of the polyp. Symptoms commonly seen in cats with nasal polyps are sneezing, nasal discharge, reverse sneezing, snoring, and breathing difficulties.
If nasal polyps grow from the ear canals or middle ear, head shaking, loss of balance, excessive ear scratching, and head tilt can be observed from affected feline patients. A persistent ear infection is also a possible indication of inflammatory polyps growing along the cat’s ear canals.
A decrease in appetite and difficulty in swallowing can be seen in cats with nasal polyps large enough to partially block the laryngeal area. Since nasal polyps are benign, general signs of illness like weakness, lethargy, or decreased appetite are rare unless the size of the polyp obstructs the cat’s airways or oral cavity.
How are nasal polyps diagnosed?
Nasal polyps in cats are often overlooked and initially misdiagnosed because the signs associated with them are pretty similar to other conditions affecting the upper respiratory tract or ear canals. Oftentimes, cats with signs of nasal polyps are treated for other common causes of nasal or ear problem symptoms before the possibility of a nasal polyp diagnosis is considered.
When clinical signs fail to resolve or respond to treatment, the possibility of nasal polyp growth is often explored by your vet. There are different ways your vet can confirm the presence of a nasal polyp in your cat. A thorough physical exam is usually enough to detect nasal polyps that are large enough to be seen from the ear canals or the nostrils of the animal.
Diagnostic imaging tests like radiographs (x-rays), CT scans, and MRIs can help confirm the presence of growths along the nasal passages or ear canals of the feline patient. Definitive diagnosis, however, can only be done when a sample of the growth is obtained and submitted to a pathology laboratory for analysis. Sedation of the patient may be needed to obtain a proper image or a sample for biopsy.
If your cat is experiencing signs similar to what was described above, it’s best to visit your vet for a thorough assessment to determine the cause and rule the possibility of nasal polyps.
Treatment Options for Cats with Nasal Polyps
Since nasal polyps are growths causing partial obstruction along the cat’s nasal passages and/or ear canals, the ideal treatment is the surgical removal of the benign mass. Polyps located at the back of the mouth or throat can be gently plucked out using a pair of long surgical forceps through what is called an avulsion/traction technique. However, polyps removed in this manner tend to regrow in a couple of months or weeks if the underlying condition is not treated.
Polyps along the ear canals can be removed using the same technique, but some cases require access to the middle ear cavity, or bulla, to allow for the removal of the roots of the polyps and reduce the risks of regrowth. The surgical procedure involving bulla access is called ventral bulla osteotomy.
Cats that undergo surgical removal of nasal polyps will need to be put on an Elizabethan collar (plastic cone) for about 2 weeks to prevent them from disturbing the surgical site. They are also put on antibiotics for a couple of weeks to prevent secondary infection after surgery.
Side effects may appear after surgery depending on the location from where the polyp was removed. Common side effects observed involve control of the muscles and tissues around the eye. Cats that undergo surgical removal of nasal polyps may have difficulty blinking for a couple of weeks due to possible nerve trauma during manipulation of the benign growth. Side effects from the surgery are often temporary and only last for a couple of days to a few weeks. However, there is a slim chance of permanent nerve damage depending on the extent of the manipulation.
Since nasal polyps are inflammatory, the use of systemic anti-inflammatories such as corticosteroids can help manage the condition. This can be given after surgery to reduce inflammation at the site and lower the risk of recurrence, or before the surgery to decrease the size of polyps and make it easier to be removed surgically.
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