In cats, nosebleeds are rare. If your cat has regular nosebleeds, taking her to the vet is a good idea.
The technical term for a nosebleed is “epistaxis,” derived from the Greek “stazein,” which means to “fall in drops” (the same root as stalactite).
The causes of epistaxis can be divided into 3 broad groups.
- Coagulation problems, or failure of the blood to clot properly
- An object taking up space in the nose — for example, a foreign body, tooth root abscess or tumor
- Disease somewhere else in the body that causes high blood pressure
The most obvious symptom is blood dripping from the nose. This is often accompanied by sneezing caused by the tickle of blood at the nares. However, there can be more subtle signs depending on the underlying reason for the epistaxis.
If the cat has a problem clotting his blood, he might also have blood in his urine or pass dark feces containing digested blood. Instead of being nice and pink, his gums may be pale, or even white. These cats bruise easily, and a clue to this is seeing lots of pinprick spots of red on the gums. These are known as “petechiae,” and are tiny local bleeds that are typical of coagulation problems.
Cats with a physical problem, such as grass stuck up the nose, tend to sneeze a lot and rub at their noses. Those with a tumor, or a tooth root abscess, often have a subtle loss of symmetry when you carefully scrutinize their faces.
Ill health that causes high blood pressure, such as kidney disease or an overactive thyroid, has its own set of symptoms like excessive thirst, weight loss or behavioral changes. Indeed, cats with high blood pressure can have alarming symptoms including sudden blindness or even a stroke.
What Causes Nosebleeds in Cats?
To properly answer that question, we need to consider what causes the underlying problems:
- Coagulation problems: These can be caused by the immune system attacking itself, drug reactions, inherited disease such as hemophilia, rat bait poisoning or bone marrow disease.
- Space-occupying lesions: Things like a piece of grass inhaled and then stuck in the nose speak for themselves. Dental abscesses develop as a result of tartar buildup, or if a tooth cracks and provides a route for bacteria to invade. Nasal tumors can and do happen, but no one is really sure why.
- General ill health: Many of these problems, such as renal disease or overactive thyroid, are age-related.
The first steps to diagnosis include blood tests and measuring blood pressure.
A blood panel gives valuable information about organ function and underlying ill health. Plus the size, type and number of red blood cells tell the veterinarian a lot about if the cat is damaging his own red blood cells and if he is replacing them, which can help identify certain coagulation disorders.
If the blood tests and blood pressure are normal, the next step is to take radiographs of the nasal chambers to identify signs of tooth root abscesses or cancer. If this draws a blank, putting a tiny camera up the cat’s nose to physically identify errant foreign bodies can help.
Treatment is best achieved by correcting any underlying health problems, such as kidney disease, that may be causing the nosebleed.
In the case of a nasal foreign body it should be removed, but the options for nasal tumors are limited.
The best thing you can do for your cat is to keep him in good health and take him to the vet promptly if you suspect he is unwell. Left untreated, some problems carry symptoms, such as nosebleeds, that are alarming for you and distressing for your pet.
- The 5-Minute Veterinary Consult. Tilley & Smith. Publisher: Williams & Wilkins.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed Nov. 21, 2014.