Swallowing Difficulties in Cats

Swallowing Difficulties in Cats - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost
Swallowing Difficulties in Cats - Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, Recovery, Management, Cost

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. 

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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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Worried about the cost of Swallowing Difficulties treatment?

Pet Insurance covers the cost of many common pet health conditions. Prepare for the unexpected by getting a quote from top pet insurance providers.

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

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Domestic cat

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Five Years

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0 found helpful

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0 found helpful

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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0 Recommendations

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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0 found helpful

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0 found helpful

Has Symptoms

Coughing
Aggression

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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Swallowing Difficulties Average Cost

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

Average Cost

$1,800

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