Signs & Symptoms of Feline Nasopharyngeal Polyps

Polyps can grow deep within a cat's nasal and ear cavities.
Polyps can grow deep within a cat's nasal and ear cavities. (Image: eye cats image by Galyna Andrushko from

If you cat does not appear to be ill but sneezes constantly and seems to have difficulty breathing, you may begin to suspect an obstruction. One condition that can cause these symptoms is nasopharyngeal polyps. These growths can cause progressively difficult breathing and eating difficulties, and can lead to more serious problems like anorexia and neurological disorders. If you detect signs of nasopharyngeal polyps in your cat, you should consult with your veterinarian about the best course of treatment.

What Are Nasopharyngeal Polyps

Nasopharyngeal polyps are benign growths that affect the pharynx, nasal passages and ear canals of cats. The condition usually occurs in young cats and is often confused by owners with a respiratory infection. The polyps have a glistening, red, pink or grayish appearance that looks like a pendulous mass in the ear canals or on the soft palate. They may be round or oval and are often found at the back of the nasal cavity.

Causes of Nasopharyngeal Polyps

The exact cause of nasopharyngeal polyps is unclear. Some cats may be predisposed to these growths due to a congenital defect in the part of the ear called the tubotympanic recess, according to the Purdue University Indiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory. Another theory proposes that chronic inflammation causes the polyps.

Signs and Symptoms of Nasopharyngeal Polyps

Nasopharyngeal polyps can be located at various locations in the nasal cavities, pharynx or ear canal, which can manifest as a variety of symptoms, including ear infection, voice change, nasal discharge, gagging or difficulty breathing, according to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons website. If your cat snores noisily or breathes with difficulty and yet has no symptoms of a respiratory infection, it may be that the cat has nasopharyngeal polyps. Chronic ear infections may also occur. As the growths grow larger, the cat may have difficulty swallowing and may lose weight. If polyps are located in the ear, balance problems may result.

Treatments for Nasopharyngeal Polyps

If symptoms are noticeable or troublesome, surgical treatment to remove the polyps is generally recommended unless the health of the animals contraindicates the risk. The surgeon may remove the growth by pulling on it with a steady traction, but this often leaves behind the base of the polyp, which can grow back to cause further problems. In the ear canal, a vet cuts tissue to remove the polyp along with the base cells so that it does not regrow.

Aftereffects From Surgery

Nasopharyngeal surgery can have significant aftereffects that should be taken into consideration. The areas within the nasopharyngeal passages contain nerves that may be inadvertently damaged by the surgery. A condition called Horner’s syndrome results in about 80 percent of the surgeries. The condition causes the third eyelid to elevate, giving the cat an uneven facial appearance. This is generally temporary. When surgery is done on the inner ear, a head tilting or wobbling condition may be evident. This is also temporary. The temporomandibular joint in the jaw can also be affected and may cause eating problems.

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