A closer look: Nosebleed in Cats
The nasal passages and sinuses contain a high number of small blood vessels. When these vessels are irritated or injured, blood may leak from them which may be observed as a nosebleed.
In healthy cats, when blood leaks from an injured vessel, the blood eventually thickens near the site of injury. This thickening is referred to as “clotting.” Blood clots plug the leaks in damaged vessels until they repair themselves. Blood vessels in cats who have blood clotting disorders or are poisoned by an anticoagulant (ie. anti-clotting) toxin do not clot effectively, which can lead to abnormal bleeding including epistaxis (nosebleeds).
In cases where first aid is not successful in stopping the flow of blood, or where nosebleed is accompanied by signs of weakness, difficulty breathing, pale gums, the loss of a large quantity of blood, or collapse, emergency veterinary attention is necessary.
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Nosebleeds are a sign of a variety of underlying causes.
In some cases, there are changes to the structures of the nasal passages or surrounding systems such as teeth, sinuses, and facial structures.
In some cases, there are abnormalities in the cat’s blood that lead to nosebleeds.
Some cases of nosebleeds are related to infection in the nasal passages or sinuses. In some cases, no known cause can be found to explain a cat’s nosebleeds.
Nosebleeds are uncommon in cats and are associated with several underlying conditions, some of which require emergency veterinary care.
The severity of nosebleed depends on several factors including:
- The volume of blood lost
- The length of time the nosebleed continues
- The presence of other symptoms including weakness, collapse, difficulty breathing, and pale gums
- Whether blood is coming from one nostril or both
Cats with significant blood loss, or where other severe symptoms accompany a nosebleed, require emergency veterinary attention. These situations are usually associated with more severe, potentially life-threatening underlying conditions.
In cases where blood is coming from one nostril, the underlying cause is more likely to affect one side of the face, such as with traumatic injury, dental disease, or tumors. In cases where blood is leaking from both nostrils, systemic illnesses such as poisoning, liver and kidney disease, and blood diseases are more likely.
Testing and diagnosis
The first step in caring for a cat with a nosebleed is to attempt to stop the flow of blood. Steps include:
- Applying an ice pack to the bridge of the nose
- Applying gentle pressure to the bridge of the nose
Inserting absorbent material into the nasal passage is not recommended, as this might increase the bleeding.
If the nosebleed does not resolve with these steps, or if the nosebleed is accompanied by weakness, collapse, pale gums, or difficulty breathing, emergency veterinary care is required. In cases where nosebleeds occur repeatedly, immediate veterinary attention is required.
In order to find the underlying cause of nosebleeds, diagnostic tools include:
- Physical examination
- Examination of the nasal cavity using an endoscope
- Blood tests
- Nasal swabs
- Diagnostic imaging, such as X-rays and CT scans
Depending on the underlying cause, treatments include:
- Removal of foreign objects
- Wound care
- Antibiotics, antifungal or antiviral medications
- Blood transfusions
- Dental care
- Specific treatment for underlying illnesses
Since cats lick their wounds and may transfer blood to their faces, it is possible to mistake blood from other injuries for nosebleeds.