Feline Rhinitis: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatments
It is fairly common for cats to suffer from a stuffy nose, otherwise known as rhinitis. This condition can make your cat very uncomfortable—it’s hard to sleep and smell food, and lethargy and breathing difficulties affect playtime.
Fortunately, there are several options to treat and manage your cat’s condition to help them feel better.
Keep reading to discover what feline rhinitis is, what causes it, symptoms to look for, and how to treat it.
What Is Feline Rhinitis?
Feline rhinitis is a condition where the lining of the nose (mucous membranes) are inflamed.1 When these tissues become inflamed, breathing becomes much more difficult due to swelling and an increased amount of nasal mucous.
The condition can be short-term and clear up in a few weeks, or can be long-term (chronic) and last for life. Damage of the lining of the nasal passages can also increase the risk of developing a secondary bacterial infection which can worsen symptoms.2
What Causes Feline Rhinitis?
Rhinitis in cats is a common complication of upper respiratory infections (cat flu). Viral infection (feline herpesvirus or feline calicivirus) is the most common cause of these infections.3
Other causes of feline rhinitis include:
- Bacterial infections (usually secondary to viral infections)
- Certain fungal infections
- Neoplaysia (cancer) which causes abnormal tissue growth in the nasal passages
- Inflammatory polyps (non-cancerous growths inside the nasal passages)
- Dental infections and disease
- Foreign bodies
- Anatomical deformity (such as a cleft palate)4
Chronic rhinitis can result from permanent damage to the nasal passageways and result in frequent infections and ongoing issues.
Symptoms Of Rhinitis In Cats
Cats with rhinitis may show any number of the following symptoms:
- Pawing at the face
- Nasal discharge
- Loss of appetite
- Decreased airflow
- Breathing through the mouth
- Laboured breathing
If you notice your cat is showing symptoms of rhinitis, take them to the vet right away.
How Is Feline Rhinitis Diagnosed?
Rhinitis is diagnosed after a thorough physical examination and evaluation of your cat’s medical history. Your cat may need to be placed under general anesthesia to allow the vet to perform a rhinoscopy and/or a nasal wash to collect cell samples.5
Finding the cause of rhinitis is important for determining the course of treatment needed to help your cat feel better. A definitive diagnosis is made after ruling out lower airway disease that may show similar symptoms such as feline asthma or chronic bronchitis.
Treating Rhinitis In Cats
Treatment for rhinitis depends on the underlying condition causing the symptoms.
Medical Treatment For Rhinitis
Some of the most common medical treatments include:
1. Antibiotics for secondary bacterial infection
If the rhinitis is accompanied by a bacterial infection, antibiotics are prescribed to clear the infection and prevent symptoms from worsening.
2. Intravenous fluids & nutritional support
Cats who are resistant to eating and/or drinking water need fluids and nutritional support so their bodies have the strength to fight off infections and recover.
3. Nasal flush
A nasal flush may be indicated for cats with chronic rhinitis and can be used to dislodge blockages and debris a few times per year.6 This procedure will need to be completed by a vet as your cat will need to be sedated.
4. Corticosteroids for idiopathic rhinitis (unknown cause)
If the cause of rhinitis cannot be determined, corticosteroids are often prescribed to reduce inflammation. Once secondary infections have been treated, a trial of oral steroids may be used to see if the rhinitis is responsive to corticosteroids. Most cases have been found to be responsive when the nasal airway has been flushed and antibiotic therapy administered.7
Cats that are responsive to corticosteroids should be transitioned to inhaled steroids, such as fluticasone, with an AeroKat* Chamber for long term management.
5. Antifungal medications
If a fungus is causing rhinitis in your cat, antifungal medications are prescribed to treat it.
6. Surgery or other medical interventions
A surgical procedure (called a rhinotomy) may be warranted for cats with cancerous growths or other anatomical issues in the nasal passages.8
There are also several things you can do at home to help relieve your cat’s symptoms.
1. Warm, humid air
Dry, cold air can irritate nasal passages and cause mucous to dry and adhere to the nasal walls. A humidifier can help keep the nasal passages open so your cat can breathe easier. Alternatively, taking your cat with you into the bathroom while you shower can have a similar effect.
2. Nursing care
Good nursing care can go a long way with helping your cat feel better. Clean your cat’s face with a warm washcloth to remove mucous and make sure your cat is warm and as comfortable as possible.
3. Warm, strong-smelling food
Cats with rhinitis have a difficult time smelling food, making their meals very unappetizing. Warming your cat’s food will help make it more aromatic and appealing.
Help Your Cat Manage Their Symptoms
If you suspect your cat is suffering from rhinitis, be sure to take them to the vet for a thorough examination. Although rhinitis is common in cats, it is important to determine what is causing your cat’s symptoms so their condition can be treated and managed.
1Kuehn, Ned F., DVM, MS, DACVIM. “Rhinitis and Sinusitis in Cats.” Merck Veterinary Manual. https://www.merckvetmanual.com/cat-owners/lung-and-airway-disorders-of-….
2Sharp, Claire R., BSc, BVMS (Hons), MS, CMAVA, Diplomate ACVECC. “Feline Rhinitis and Upper Respiratory Disease.” Today's Veterinary Practice. https://todaysveterinarypractice.com/feline-rhinitis-upper-respiratory-….
3“Chronic Upper Respiratory Tract Disease.” International Cat Care. https://icatcare.org/advice/chronic-upper-respiratory-tract-disease/.
4“Chronic Upper Respiratory Tract Disease.” International Cat Care. https://icatcare.org/advice/chronic-upper-respiratory-tract-disease/.
5Lundgren, Becky. “Rhinitis in Dogs and Cats - Veterinary Partner.” Veterinary Partner. https://veterinarypartner.vin.com/default.aspx?pid=19239&catId=102899&i….
6Sharp, Claire R., BSc, BVMS (Hons), MS, CMAVA, Diplomate ACVECC. “Feline Rhinitis and Upper Respiratory Disease.” Today's Veterinary Practice. https://todaysveterinarypractice.com/feline-rhinitis-upper-respiratory-….
7Carey, Stephen A., DVM, PhD, DACVIM, “Feline Chronic Nasal Disease: Pathophysiologic Basis of Diagnosis and Therapy.” n.d. https://www.michvma.org/resources/Documents/MVC/2018 Proceedings/carey_03.pdf.
8“Feline Rhinitis.” SNAP Cats. Accessed December 13, 2019. http://www.snapcats.org/2018/05/08/feline-rhinitis/.