What Your Cat's Nose Can Tell You About Their Overall Health
Believe it or not, your cat's nose can reveal a lot about their health. "In general, during wellness visits your veterinarian will examine your pet's nose for any abnormal appearances or discharge as well as check to make sure the air is moving equally from both nostrils when your cat breathes," explains Dr. Meaghan Gilhooly, DVM at Banfield Pet Hospital. "Just like in humans, pets can experience congestion, discharge, and other sinus type symptoms, which can go hand-in-hand with respiratory diseases or other diseases that affect the oral or nasal cavity."
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Along with possible sinus or respiratory concerns, your cat's nose can indicate other types of health issues, too. "Sores or blisters on the nose could be the result of a viral infection, trauma, or an autoimmune disease such as Pemphigus complex," says Dr. John Howe, President of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). "Also, be on the lookout for discolored discharge, nosebleeds, or dry, cracking, ulcerated sores on your cat or kitten's nose. These should all be checked by your veterinarian."
Not sure how to determine if your cat's nose is normal or not? We asked Dr. Gilhooly and Dr. Howe to help us understand what certain feline nasal characteristics mean, and here's their diagnosis.
Related: Cat Wheezing—What Is It, Why Does It Happen, and Should You See a Vet?
Know the characteristics of a healthy cat nose.
While there's no single example of a healthy cat's nose, Dr. Howe says a cool, slightly moist nose is usually a good sign. "Some perfectly healthy cats may have drier noses," he explains. "There's also a healthy amount of variation that can happen within individual cats, as a healthy cat's nose can vary between dry and wet over the course of a day." Additionally, Dr. Gilhooly says that there should be no visible discharge, and that air should be moving from both nostrils equally when your cat breathes. "The external appearance of your cat's nose should be symmetrical with no visible masses," she explains.
What is feline nasal discharge a sign of?
According to Dr. Howe, healthy nasal discharge is clear. "A discolored discharge accompanied by sneezing or coughing may indicate a respiratory infection, and it's important to seek veterinary attention early to catch these before they become more severe," he says. Nasal discharge could also mean the presence of another problem, such as an infection, illness, or something irritating the cat's nose. "Discolored discharge could be a sign of a foreign object up the nose such as plant awns or polyps," Dr. Howe adds.
What a dry cat nose means.
While a dry cat nose could indicate dehydration or a fever, Dr. Howe says that's not always the case. "It could be dry due to other reasons, such as from spending too much time near a heat source," he explains. "However, noses that look pale may be an indication of anemia, and if there's any yellow tinge, be sure to contact your veterinarian right away, as this can be a sign that something is significantly wrong."
Other significant signs to look for concerning your cat's nose.
If your cat is having trouble breathing through its nose, Dr. Gilhooly says to contact your veterinarian immediately. "Cats are obligate nasal breathers, meaning they should be moving air through their nostrils," she explains. "If you notice your cat is open mouth breathing, this is not normal and should warrant a call to your veterinarian." Likewise, Dr. Howe says that excessive licking of the nose can be a sign that your cat is need of veterinary care. "Occasionally, some cats are poor groomers that don't wash their face," he explains. "Be careful not to chalk it up to 'my cat's just lazy' because there could be painful medical problems, such as arthritis, that are preventing your cat from conducting normal daily activities."
Know when to call the veterinarian.
Dr. Gilhooly says that the condition of your cat's nose can also provide insight into other body systems such as oral and respiratory health, which is why anytime you notice something off with your cat or their nose, it's best to contact your vet for safe measure. "Based on the symptoms, they can help determine if a trip to the vet is needed or if you can monitor symptoms at home," she explains. Additionally, Dr. Howe says that if your cat usually has a cool, wet nose and it suddenly turns dry for more than a day, you should check with your veterinarian asap. "You have the best sense of what your cat or kitten's nose looks like, as well as your cat's normal behavior, so if you see anything that looks out of the ordinary, or observe any other abnormal symptoms, call your veterinarian, because catching something early will save you both time and heartache."