The vet’s office: Feline sniffles and signs of kitty colds
By Dr. Elizabeth Knabe, DVM
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC
Problems of a cat’s upper respiratory system, which includes the nose, sinuses, and back of the throat, are common. Owners usually will not get worried if signs are mild and disappear in a few days. When cats are showing nasal discharge that is greenish or yellow and behavior that is lethargic, owners get concerned and seek veterinary attention.
What makes these conditions sometimes frustrating for pet owners and veterinarians alike is there are numerous afflictions that can cause the same symptoms. This makes the diagnosis a challenge for some patients.
Age can be a factor in narrowing down the cause. Kittens and adult cats less than 6 years old are more likely to have viral or bacterial infections. One of the most common viruses, feline herpes virus, will remain in the cat’s nervous system for its lifetime. The cat will clear the initial viral infection but may have repeated bouts of it from time to time as the virus reactivates.
Younger cats can also have nasal polyps that come from inflammation in their upper airways. The polyps block airflow and cause sounds of snoring.
Cats older than 10 are more likely to have cancer as a cause of nasal problems. These cancers tend to be destructive to nasal tissues and are progressive and difficult to treat.
Other conditions are not age-related and include foreign bodies such as blades of grass that get lodged in the nasal passages. Cats that have infections with feline leukemia virus or feline immunodeficiency virus may have weakened immune systems that make them more susceptible to sinus and nasal infections. Fungal infections, such as Cryptococcus, can infect a cat sinus.
I recall treating a cat with a fungal infection at the emergency practice where I first worked. The cat was not responding to the usual antibiotics and came into the emergency room when its signs worsened. We found the fungal spores in swabs of its nasal discharge.
Another concern is dental disease. Cat teeth have long roots, and in the upper jaw they extend close to the sinuses and nasal passages. When there are tooth root abscesses present, the infection can extend into the airways and cause sneezing and discharge. Your cat may not exhibit signs of tooth pain as cats are programmed to hide it.
Finally, just like in people, cats can have allergies that cause nasal signs, though they are not very common.
When your kitty shows signs of a “cold,” you and your veterinarian will have to work together to find the best treatments.
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC is located at 210 Airpark Road in Marshfield and online at wildwoodanimalhospital.net.