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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

I have an urgent question. Our 12-year-old cat will not eat. This all started a few weeks ago when her brother, who passed away from cancer, was in at the vet. When he came home he had a cold and she picked it up. Things seemed to be fine but then we adopted two new kittens. She lays with the kittens and just watches them, but one of them has a sneeze and she picked it up and it got to a point she was having a lot of problems sneezing and so on. Over a few days, she stopped eating. I really feel it has to do with her inability to smell.

Last Friday we took her to the vet after two days of not eating and they rehydrated her and sent her home with an antibiotic. Her sneezing is going away but you can still tell she is clogged. The vet put her on another antibiotic and still no change. We have been feeding her some canned food through a syringe after watering it down. Today the vet tried an appetite stimulant and that’s not working.

So I still think it’s the smell thing because when you squirt the food into her mouth she swallows it. She will not chew on anything. Lastly, we have also tested things that she normally smells, like catnip, and she has no reaction. Any suggestions on something that may help clear her nose up so she can smell again and hopefully eat?


Siouxsie: Upper respiratory disease and the associated congestion could certainly be a cause of your cat’s failure to eat.

Thomas: Infections can be viral, bacterial, or fungal. Viral infections caused by the feline herpesvirus or calcivirus are the most common type. Once a cat gets an infection and recovers, it can still be a carrier of that virus. When the cat goes through a period of stress, the virus can be reactivated and symptoms of the infection will appear.

Dahlia: Cats can develop fungal infections such as aspergillosis, but this is very rare. If your cat has a fungal infection, your vet would have to prescribe special long-term medication therapy.

Siouxsie: Viral infections are characterized mostly by sneezing and discharge from the eyes and nose. Some cats can exhibit noisy breathing or mouth breathing if the nasal passages are too blocked for the cat to breathe through its nose. And of course, as you’ve noticed, if the cat’s nose is clogged, she’ll lose her appetite.

Thomas: Antibiotics will not be effective in treating viral infections. Antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses.

Dahlia: And speaking of bacteria, cats can develop bacterial infections in their sinuses. This generally happens when the lining of the nose is injured by a foreign body, a nasal trauma, or a previous viral infection. Another common cause of bacterial sinus infections is an abscessed tooth.

Siouxsie: Bacterial infections are characterized by a nasal discharge that is creamy yellow or pus-like. If there is blood in your cat’s nasal discharge, that indicates deep involvement and ulcerations in the nasal membrane. The cat may also have a fever and may not be eating well.

Thomas: Whichever kind of infection your cat has, you have to get her breathing properly again. You can help by wiping any discharge and crusts off her nose with a moist cotton ball or an unscented baby wipe. Using a vaporizer to increase humidity will help to loosen secretions and help her nasal passages to clear.

Dahlia: You may be able to encourage your cat to eat by feeding her really smelly canned food and warming it up a  little bit to increase the aroma. Five to 10 seconds in the microwave will warm the food to the right temperature.

Siouxsie: Your vet may prescribe an antihistamine called Cyproheptadine, which also works as an appetite stimulant.

Thomas: If that treatment doesn’t help unblock your cat’s nasal passages, your vet may instruct you to use children’s strength nose dropss to shrink her swollen membranes. Do not use nose drops without your veterinarian’s guidance! We can’t stress this enough! You have to be very careful about how much you give her and how you administer it. And if your vet gives you the go-ahead to use nose drops and tells you how to do so, don’t use them for more than five days.

Dahlia: Pediatric saline drops may also provide some relief.

Siouxsie: If your cat’s infection persists despite treatment, your vet will need to do a culture and sensitivity test to choose the best antibiotic.

Thomas: Now we want to go back to something we said earlier. Bacterial sinus infections can be caused by abscessed teeth.

Dahlia: When you said your cat won’t chew, that got us to thinking that maybe her problem is not so much in her nose as in her mouth! Failure to eat is one of the first indications of oral disease. Cats rarely refuse to chew unless their teeth are hurting them.

Siouxsie: Did you know that 70 percent of cats show some signs of mouth and gum disease by the time they’re three years old?

Thomas: Symptoms of oral disease in cats include bad breath, tartar buildup on the teeth; swollen, receding, or bleeding gums; broken or abscessed teeth; and changes in appetite.

Dahlia: Dental disease can lead to other serious problems like heart and kidney disease

Siouxsie: February is National Pet Dental Health Month. Lots of humane societies and vets all across the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand  are offering free dental screening clinics and reduced prices on dental cleanings and other procedures.

Thomas: Some people say that feeding a cat dry food will prevent tartar buildup. While it’s true that dry food isn’t as sticky as canned food and may contribute less to the formation of plaque, chewing dry food doesn’t get tartar and other gunk off the outsides of the teeth.

Dahlia: Dental disease and tartar buildup is caused more by genetics than diet. Some cats, like some humans, just have really bad teeth. Abyssinians and other Oriental cat breeds are statistically more prone to dental disease than other purebreds. Mixed-breed cats can have some Oriental heritage, so you can’t know for sure how they’re going to fare.

Siouxsie: You can prevent dental disease by brushing your cat’s teeth and making sure your cat gets regular veterinary attention so any dental health issues can be spotted before they become major problems.

Thomas: If you can’t bring yourself to brush your cat’s teeth, make sure to check her mouth regularly. Lift her cheeks up and look at the outsides of her molars. If you see lots of yellow tartar or her gums look red and swollen, make sure to take her to the vet because she may need to have her teeth cleaned.

Dahlia: Sometimes you can remove tartar from a cat’s teeth by pulling it off with your thumbnail. Hold your cat’s mouth open and pull at the tartar with your thumbnail. Occasionally a big chunk will break off. Be aware that your cat may not tolerate this treatment if her teeth already hurt or she doesn’t like being touched around the mouth.

Siouxsie: Anyway, Darrell, it’s quite possible that with all the attention to your cat’s nasal problems, a dental issue may have been overlooked. You might want to ask your vet to check her mouth when you bring your cat in for advice on other treatments for her nasal and sinus issues.

Thomas: Good luck to both of you. Please let us know how things turn out.