Relieving the Swollen Nasal Passages in Cats

"It's so nice to breathe freely and quietly."
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If your cat's nose is stuffed up, making it difficult for him to breathe, you want to relieve the congestion and make him comfortable. First, you must find out what's causing his swollen nasal passages, and that means a trip to the veterinarian. She'll advise you on the best treatment.

Feline Nasal Passages

Your cat's nasal cavity contains turbinates, which clear the nose. The American Association of Feline Practitioners describes them as "covered with ciliated columnar epithelial cells that function to filter large particles as well as warm and humidify the inspired air." Two mucous layers cover this cell lining, and work together to keep unwanted bacteria and other invaders from gaining a foothold. If your cat's nasal passages become chronically inflamed, those mucous layers atrophy. That makes it easy for infections to take hold. Your cat might have a discharge from his nose, along with sneezing and noisy breathing.


Your vet must diagnose the cause of Fluffy's nasal discomfort in order to treat it. Often, the color of any mucous reveals the nature of the problem. If it's clear and thin, that might indicate an allergic reaction, especially if the cat also sneezes. If it's ordinary, pale mucous, your cat might have a viral upper respiratory infection, while a very thick, greenish-yellow discharge signals a bacterial infection. Your vet might X-ray your cat's nose to determine whether a foreign body is trapped within. If the discharge is only coming out of one nostril, that's a possibility. Tiny pieces of grass might get inhaled if your cat goes outside, but any extremely small item could be the culprit.

Bacterial Infections

If the diagnosis is a bacterial infection, your vet will prescribe antibiotics to combat it and clear your kitty's nasal passages. Common antibiotics used for treating bacterial infections include doxycycline, azithromycin, clindamycin and marbofloxicin. Your may need to give your kitty the selected antibiotic for a month or more. If the infection doesn't clear up, it's possible that a fungal infection is at work. After diagnosis via examination of a nasal sample under a microscope, your vet might prescribe anti-fungal medications.


It's likely your cat was exposed to the herpesvirus at some time in his life, as it's extremely contagious from cat to cat. It's the most common cause of nasal infection, according to Most of the time, the herpesvirus doesn't cause issues with healthy cats, but in times of stress, or if his immune system is otherwise suppressed, it can cause a gunked-up nose. It might also cause an eye discharge and coughing. Inoculation against herpesvirus is part of the basic FVRCP vaccine, given in kittenhood with boosters for older cats. There's no medication to get rid of the herpesvirus, so you must treat his nasal symptoms. recommends wiping any discharge off his nose with a cotton ball or soft cloth. You can put a drop of baby oil or lotion under his nose to prevent cracking. Put your cat in a room with a vaporizer, which can hydrate his nasal passages, reducing secretions. If you don't have a vaporizer, put the cat in the bathroom with you while you're taking a shower. That has the same effect. Ask your vet about giving your cat a lysine supplement, which might reduce herpesvirus symptoms.

Saline Drops

Your vet might suggest relieving your cat's swollen nasal passages with saline drops, but putting saline drops in your cat's nose isn't easy. If your cat lets you do this, you can purchase saline nasal drops designed for infants and use the product on him. The saline drops serve a dual purpose, as they moisturize his nose and cause sneezing, which helps get the mucous out.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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