What to Do If Your Cat Has a Runny Nose

Estimated Reading Time 5 minutes
What to Do If Your Cat Has a Runny Nose

Nasal discharge, or runny nose, is not in itself an illness but rather a symptom of an underlying condition. There is a wide range of conditions that result in nasal discharge in cats, and the severity can vary depending on the specific cause. Most causes of runny nose in cats are usually minor and do not warrant treatment, but some can cause potential health problems. In this article, we’ll discuss the most common causes of runny nose and what you can do if your cat develops this problem.

Are you concerned about your pet?

Book a video consultation with an experienced veterinarian within minutes.

  • Professional vet advice online
  • Low-cost video vet consultations
  • Open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year

Common Causes of Runny Nose in Cats

A runny nose, or nasal discharge, in cats is an inflammatory reaction of the nasal passages. The surface of the nasal mucosa is lined with cells that produce mucoid to serous fluid in response to inflammation. The amount and the viscosity of the discharge produced by the lining of the nasal passages vary depending on the cause of the inflammation of the nasal passages, termed rhinitis.

Here are a few common causes of rhinitis in cats:

1. Environmental Irritants

The most common cause of rhinitis and runny nose in cats is irritation. Cats have a very sensitive sense of smell and can be easily irritated even with things commonly found in the household. Household cleaners such as bleach, detergents, and fabric softeners have odors that might be pleasant to us humans but can be irritating for cats because of their highly sensitive olfactory senses.

Aerosol sprays and disinfectants are also a common cause of runny nose in cats, along with scented candles and perfumes. A runny nose due to irritation is often transient and goes away on its own as soon as the cat’s exposure to the irritant has been controlled.

2. Allergic Rhinitis

Whenever a cat sneezes or has a runny nose, the first condition that comes into mind is allergic rhinitis. This is arguably the most common cause of rhinitis in humans and it’s only natural to think that it may be the case too in our feline pets. However, allergic reactions as a cause of rhinitis are fairly uncommon in cats.

Though cats have a more sensitive sense of smell than us humans, they’re less prone to allergic rhinitis. This is not saying that it doesn’t occur in cats, because it happens too, just to a lesser extent. Allergic rhinitis can be seasonal or year-round, depending on the geographic location of the animal. Common causes of allergic rhinitis in feline patients are pollen (which causes seasonal allergic rhinitis), house dust, and molds.

3. Foreign Material in the Nose

Cats are naturally curious creatures and like to sniff around and explore their environment. Accidentally inhaling foreign objects are bound to happen, and if it does, your cat will show several symptoms indicating nasal discomfort and inflammation.

The most common symptom seen in foreign body inhalation is profuse nasal discharge or runny nose. This is occasionally accompanied by frequent sneezing and apparent discomfort in the nasal passages.

4. Nasal Polyps and Cancer

Cats can develop benign tumors along the lining of their nasal passages, called nasal polyps. These growths can cause mild irritation and inflammation of the nasal passages resulting in persistent runny nose, sneezing, and sinus congestion.

Most cases of nasal polyps in cats do not result in serious health problems, and signs are usually localized. However, in rare cases, these polyps cause the formation of nasal cancer and result in more severe clinical signs.

My Cat Has a Runny Nose. What Should I Do?

If you’ve noticed that your cat has a runny nose, ideally a visit to the vet is the best course of action to determine what the cause is.

There are a few things you can do at home to help alleviate signs of rhinitis and control your cat’s runny nose while waiting to take your pet to a veterinarian. Sometimes, this will help resolve the animal’s runny nose and a veterinary visit may not be needed!

Keeping the area where your cat stays clean and free from dust, molds, and other possible irritants or objects that can be inhaled will help control a cat’s runny nose, especially if it’s been triggered by environmental factors.

Humidifiers and nebulizers can help treat and control profuse nasal discharge in cats. Sterile water or saline solution can be used to help control mild inflammation of the nasal passages and decrease congestion to help the cat breathe easier.

Cats depend on their sense of smell for their appetite. If they have a runny nose and their olfactory senses are compromised, they may lose their appetite. You can offer an alternative diet with a strong aroma to help stimulate their appetite. Warming up their food before offering can release more aroma to make it more attractive to cats with runny noses.

When to Bring Your Cat to the Veterinarian

As mentioned, as soon as your cat shows signs of a runny nose, it’s enough reason to make an appointment with your vet. Home treatment and observation first to see if the problem will resolve on its own is fine, but there are certain signs that cat owners need to watch out for as these symptoms may indicate the need to bring their pet to a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Changes in the color and consistency of nasal discharge warrants a veterinary visit as soon as possible. If the color of the nasal discharge changes from being clear to green, or worse, blood-tinge, it’s an indication that the underlying cause of the runny nose might be serious and needs to be treated immediately.

A persistent runny nose that won’t go away despite doing the first aid treatments described above will also require a veterinary visit. Any signs of generalized illness like lethargy, weakness, and decreased appetite are also signs that a veterinary consultation is needed.

Read more:

Upper Respiratory Infections in Cats

Causes of Yellow/Green Discharge from Your Cat’s Nose

Sneezing in Cats and Kittens

Need to speak with a veterinarian regarding your cat’s runny nose or another condition?

Click here to schedule a video consult to speak to one of our vets. You can also download the FirstVet app from the Apple App Store and Google Play Stores

Published: 4/8/2022
Dr. Sheena Haney, Veterinarian

Are you concerned about your pet?

Book a video consultation with an experienced veterinarian within minutes.

Get started
  • Low-cost video vet consultations, 24 hours a day Low-cost video vet consultations, 24 hours a day
  • Experienced, licensed vets Experienced, licensed vets
  • Over 700,000 satisfied pet owners Over 700,000 satisfied pet owners
Low cost consultations, 24 hours a day.Low cost consultations, 24 hours a day.

With FirstVet, the vet clinic and pet shop are only one tap away. Get fast advice, trusted care and the right pet supplies – every day, all year round.


FirstVet Inc

900 3rd Ave 29th Floor


New York