is a reflex of the upper airways, activated to explosively discharge irritating material from the nasal cavity. It is usually caused by the irritation of sensitive nerve endings in the mucous membrane
that lines the nose. Nasal discharge is another sign of nasal disease or irritation.
Although normal cats may occasionally sneeze or have nasal discharge (similar to human beings), severe, chronic or recurrent bouts of sneezing or nasal discharge suggest a more serious problem. Sneezing and nasal discharge often occur together. Nasal discharge can be categorized by character: serous (clear), mucoid (cloudy), blood tinged, bloody (epistaxis) or a combination of these. It is also categorized by location: unilateral (one nostril vs. bilateral (both nostrils); chronicity (acute vs. chronic); and associated signs of disease. For example, nasal bleeding could suggest injury, a tumor, bleeding disorder or a tick-borne infection.
Sneezing and nasal discharge can be caused by dozens of conditions. Some causes are brief and self-limiting such as acute viral infections. Other problems are recurrent such as seasonal allergies. Still others – such as tumors or lodged nasal foreign bodies – are relentless and chronic unless the problem can be resolved.
Nasal disease can affect pets of any age. Younger animals are more likely to be affected by communicable respiratory infections (viruses in most cases) or birth defects (such as cleft palate, ciliary dyskinesis, or imperforate posterior choanae). Older pets with sneezing/nasal discharge are more likely to have chronic dental disease or tumors. Outdoor cats are more prone to inhalation of foreign bodies, such as fox tails plant awns, that can lead to acute and then chronic upper airway problems. Some fungal infections are more common in cats (e.g. cryptococcus).
What to Watch For
Sneezing and nasal discharge, which are the hallmark symptoms of nasal and sinus disease
Other signs may include:
Rubbing the nose or pawing at the face
Excessive swallowing (from post-nasal drip)
Bleeding from one or both nostrils
A foul smell from the mouth or nose
Swelling over the bridge of the nose
Loss of appetite
Lethargy (lack of energy)