Ask Elizabeth: 05/09

Dear Elizabeth: I adopted a munchkin Persian cat from a rescue group a few months ago. Buttercup is cute as a bug, but she has a real problem with her nose- she doesnt have much of one! When I look at Buttercups face I see very small slits where my other cats have nice big nose holes. When Buttercup breaths she makes more noise than any of my other cats; she actually sounds like shes snoring most of the time, even when shes awake!

I dont mind the noisy breathing, but Im troubled by what happens when Buttercups activity increases. When she plays – which she doesnt do very often – it looks like she really has to struggle to get air through that tiny nose. After a few minutes of playing chase the feather she stops, sits down, and just heaves. I feel so sorry for her. I put a vaporizer where she sleeps but cant tell that its made any difference. Would antibiotics help? Will she grow out of it? Is there anything I can do for her?

A. Poor Buttercup! Your description is very suggestive of a rather uncommon condition called stenotic nares in which the nostrils are abnormally small and narrow. The genetic basis and mode of inheritance has not been worked out, but this nasal malformation occurs primarily in my flat-faced friends, Persians and Himalayans. Stenosis of the nares is a congenital condition, meaning it is present at birth. It doesnt progress with age but neither does it resolve, so we cant hope for Buttercup to grow out of her problem. The degree of narrowing varies and determines just how difficult it will be for a particular cat to breathe. As youve seen with Buttercup, many affected animals have exercise intolerance due to their partial airway obstruction.

The diagnosis of stenotic nares seems clear for Buttercup based on your observations. Even so, I recommend that you take Buttercup to your veterinarian for full evaluation. He or she will make certain that there are no other problems adding to Buttercups respiratory distress. A thorough physical examination will go a long way towards ruling out heart and lung problems. Your veterinarian may also suggest taking radiographs to rule out nasopharyngeal polyps (another cause of partial airway obstruction in the ca), or other airway abnormalities.

Once convinced that Buttercups narrowed nostrils are her sole problem, what can be done to help her? Since this is a structural abnormality, there are no medical treatments that we can reach for. Luckily, though, surgery to remove some nasal tissue can be very effective at opening up stenotic nares. Prognosis is excellent for improved breathing following corrective surgery. Good luck! Love, Elizabeth