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What are Swallowing Difficulties?

If your cat is having trouble swallowing, it may be a sign of an underlying health condition that needs to be treated as soon as possible.

Every animal occasionally coughs or gags while eating, but if you notice your cat experiencing swallowing difficulties repeatedly, it’s time to see a veterinarian to determine the cause. Besides coughing and gagging, cats may also drool, make repeated attempts to swallow, or get in unusual positions to eat their food when experiencing this condition, called “dysphagia”. If left untreated, cats may begin to rapidly lose weight because they are unable to eat. 

Swallowing Difficulties Average Cost

From 584 quotes ranging from $300 - $3,000

Average Cost

$1,800

Symptoms of Swallowing Difficulties in Cats

There are three types of dysphagia, and each may present with specific symptoms. 

Oral Dysphagia

  • Struggling to open the mouth or hold food in the mouth
  • Collecting food on the sides of the mouth
  • Throwing head backward to eat

Pharyngeal Dysphagia

  • Repeated attempts to swallow
  • Gagging
  • Coughing
  • Drooling
  • Spots of blood in the saliva
  • Excessive chewing before swallowing attempts
  • Unusual neck and head movements while eating

Cricopharyngeal Dysphagia

  • Regurgitating food
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Repeated attempts to swallow
  • Gagging
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Causes of Swallowing Difficulties in Cats

Each of the different types of dysphagia is caused by different factors. 

Oral dysphagia can be caused by:

  • Jaw or tongue paralysis
  • Muscle swelling
  • Mouth trauma
  • Dental disease or infection

Pharyngeal dysphagia can be caused by:

  • Cancer
  • Enlarged lymph nodes near the pharynx
  • Abscesses
  • Pharyngeal inflammation

Cricopharyngeal dysphagia can be caused by:

  • Strained or deteriorating muscles
  • Nerve damage

In some cases, the cause of dysphagia can be neurological. If your cat is suffering from a brain disorder or rabies, dysphagia may be one of the side effects of the condition. 

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Diagnosis of Swallowing Difficulties in Cats

If you notice your cat having trouble swallowing on repeated occasions, bring him into a veterinarian as soon as possible. Tell the veterinarian what symptoms you have noticed, when they first began, and how often they have occurred. If your cat has been injured or suffered any form of trauma, make sure you let the veterinarian know.

After discussing your cat’s symptoms, the vet may perform diagnostic tests to get a better idea of the cat’s health. First, a complete blood count, urinalysis and biochemical profile will be completed to determine if your cat has an infection or muscle injury. 

Vets may also take X-rays of the mouth, skull, and chest, as well as an ultrasound of the pharynx. These tests are done to determine if there is any structural damage or growths. If growths are found, the vet will likely take a biopsy to test for cancerous cells. 

At this point, the vet should be able to determine the cat has some form of dysphagia. But, the vet may still need to run a test, known as a fluoroscopic barium swallow, to see how your cat is swallowing. During this test, food material and barium is given to your cat while the vet observes him swallowing using a video X-ray device. This will help the vet figure out where the issue lies within the cat’s oral cavity and throat.

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Treatment of Swallowing Difficulties in Cats

The treatment plan for dysphagia will depend on the underlying cause. If an infection is causing the issue, antibiotics will be prescribed, but if the issue is inflammation, steroids may be given instead. Both of these medications may need to be administered to the cat at home for up to ten days.

If a strained or contracted muscle is causing your cat to gag and cough up food, the vet may prescribe muscle relaxers to help this muscle relax and allow your cat to swallow.

If the cause is some sort of structural damage or abscesses, surgery may be required to correct the issue.

If the biopsy reveals there are cancerous cells within the abscesses, your vet will discuss different chemotherapy and radiation treatment options with you.

Finally, dental disease may need to be treated by removing the infected teeth and administering antibiotics.

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Recovery of Swallowing Difficulties in Cats

Unless the cause of your cat’s swallowing difficulties was cancer, he or she should recover within one to two weeks. But, cats will have trouble eating food while they recover from dysphagia, so it’s your responsibility to make eating easier until they are well. Talk to your vet about how you can make your cat more comfortable and help him keep food down. For example, the vet may recommend you only feed the cat soft, mushy foods that will easy slide down the cat’s throat. Or, the vet may recommend you position the cat in a certain way while you feed him. In extreme cases when the cat has lost a significant amount of weight, the vet may keep your cat on a feeding tube while he recovers.

Any medication prescribed by the vet must be administered as advised. Be sure to bring your cat in for a follow-up so the vet can ensure everything is healing correctly.

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Swallowing Difficulties Average Cost

From 584 quotes ranging from $300 - $3,000

Average Cost

$1,800

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Swallowing Difficulties Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Ask a Vet

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Black and White cat

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Four Years

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Unknown severity

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1 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Gurgling Purr

I have a long haired cat that has frequent hairballs but recently she has started throwing up her food right after she eats it. That might be because she eats too quickly but that’s not my big concern. I’m more concerned about when she’s purring it’s very choppy and sounds like a gurgle almost but she swallows a lot while purring, Ive noticed it for about a week now and wonder if it’s serious or not.

Aug. 3, 2020

Owner

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Jessica N. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Hello- Because the sounds that she’s making are changing plus the increased vomiting I do think that is cause for concern. I would try and get a video of her new noises that she’s making and schedule an appointment with your veterinarian so they can evaluate her. They may want to take x-rays to assess her chest and abdomen to make sure all looks normal and perform some blood work. Vomiting more than two times per month in cats is considered abnormal. There are several different causes including Inflammatory bowel disease, food sensitivity, pancreatitis, and sometimes lymphoma though that tends to be a disease of older cats. I do think with her recent changes though it would be a good idea to have her examined. I hope she feels better soon.

Aug. 3, 2020

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brown tabby

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Four Years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Compulsive Licking After Chocking

my cat was choking on a ribbon and we got it out of his throat. he has been constantly licking his mouth ever since.

Aug. 2, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I would imagine that your cat's throat is quite irritated after something like that, and it may take some time for him to be back to normal. If he continues to lick his mouth for more than a couple of days, I would be concerned, as I would be as well if he is not eating. If he is eating, and doing well, you may be fine to monitor him. If he is not eating, and the licking continues, then it would be best to have him seen by your veterinarian. I hope that he is okay.

Aug. 2, 2020

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Domestic cat

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Five Years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Gagging

He threw up in the morning and seemed fine but not there is kind of a constant gaging. He did eat and drink water and did poop so I’m not sure if it is serious

Aug. 1, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. If he is eating and not vomiting, you may be okay to continue to monitor him, but if he keeps gagging, it would be best to have him seen by a veterinarian. It may be more than an irritated throat if it continues, and they would be able to examine him and see what might be going on. I hope that all goes well for him!

Aug. 1, 2020

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Mouse

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TORTOISE shell

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4 Years

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Fair severity

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0 found helpful

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Aggression
Coughing

My cat has been coughing/heaving at random. It seems to have no cause but it's very scary because it seems like she can't breath. She's very uncomfortable and I can tell she's in pain. She's very aggressive when this happens where she growls at everyone and starts attacking the other cats (which isn't like her) symptoms subside after a while. But then they come back again a month or so later.

Sept. 20, 2018

Mouse's Owner

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Chris

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house cat

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9 Years

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Fair severity

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2 found helpful

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Fair severity

Has Symptoms

Won’ Eat Or Drink Very Little

My cat is not eating just drinking milk he just looks at the food an grouls at it if he eats a little the lets out a loud scream then runs away there are days that he’ll eat a lot An days he won’t eat at all

Sept. 16, 2018

Chris' Owner

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Louie

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American Short Hair

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12 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Throw Up

My cat 12 years old, Louie acts normal, plays well, eats well, no issues with bathroom but he started vomiting in Nov 2018 and I took him to vet for blood, urine, ultrasound test. Vet said he has a little thicken small intestine, and IBD but not that serious. She prescribed a kidney dry food and royal canin IBD dry food but my cat did not eat. He just wanted to eat other regular dry food. With cerenia, he did not vomit and it seemed stop. But after months, he restarted vomit. Then this year May 2020 I took tests again. Other vet said it’s natural for a senior cat to have this and diagnosed IBD, kidney 1st stage , auto immune disease and advised to feed him only wet food. She prescribed a Prilosec for vomit treatment but it does not work so she advised a cerenia 16mg. My cat begs for dry food so I asked vet any better dry food since he vomits a dry food. She prescribed hill’s z/d dry food with a cerenia. When cerenia stops, he vomit z/d food. I’m now trying to other better diet. Ultamino dry food for auto immune disease, and other natural dry food at open farms and purina kidney early stage, renal dry food. Does purina probiotics gastrointestinal supplement good for my cat? I want to try anything good for my cat to eat well. From 3 days ago, he acts like he wants to eat more but he eats less. He has appetite but he eats small and he looks uncomfortable eating or swallowing. He got no dental issue but he always finishes all treats but he chews multiple times and left pieces without consuming. 1. Is cerenia very strong to give him in lifetime? What’s good way to give? Should I give him 2 or 3 days in a row and rest 2 or 3 days off to restart? Or should I give him every other day? I usually give him 1/2 tab, 16mg cerenia. 2. There are many prescription food, My vet said he is IBD but she recommends Z/D or Renal food. Are they all good to try for my cat? Such As IBD , kidney food, renal food, Ultamino? 3. 1/2 tab, 16mg cerenia seems working but if it did not work, what is best medication for my cat? High dose cerenia or other pill? Thank you for reading. Please help. PS. His poop, Urine looks ok. He vomit 1 or 3 times every other day. Brown bile with chewed dry food or with chewed dry food with hairball. His weight is used to be 16lbs but he is now 15.60 lbs because yesterday he vomited 3 times a day. He patrols in the house as usual and shows interest things but he eats less but he looks he wants to eat more. He sleeps more.

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Ishtar

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Maine Coon

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14 Years

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Weight Loss
Gagging
Vomiting
Drooling
Loss Of Appetite
Weak Bladder

13 year old female cat. excessive drooling for last 48 hour, seems worse after eating. Drool is several ounces an hour, bed is wet. Weazy when breathing. Sometimes gags. Constantly licking her lips and swallowing. Vomit with yellow bile at onset, but did not repeat. General lethargy. Not eating much, but eating/drinking some. Syringe feeding water. She picks at her wet food, and will drink some water with milk. Minimal defecation, seems wet. No bad breath, mouth looked ok. Talked to vet, the can see her in 5 days (covid 19 delays).

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Stray

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Cat

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5 Months

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Mild severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Gagging/Choking

This kitty I found is very skinny and starving I give it food but every time it takes a bite it starts gasping for air like its choking I have no idea what is wrong

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Lady Buttercup

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Calico

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3 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

I know from experience with my first cat years ago that now my Buttercup has something stuck in her throat. Be it a fur-ball, or a cricket. All I know is that something is wrong with my cat, and I fear she is going to die as my first cat did years ago.

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Shadow

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Kitten

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8 Weeks

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Weight Loss
Weight Loss Poor Appetite
Weight Loss Poor Appetite Choking
Weight Loss Poor Appetite Choking,

Shadow is 8weeks old. He has lost weight since we got him. He struggles to eat or drink. Sometimes I think his body is telling him not to eat because I can tell he's hungry. And I also hear a grinding in his mouth and it's soft kitty food.

Swallowing Difficulties Average Cost

From 584 quotes ranging from $300 - $3,000

Average Cost

$1,800

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