Coughing in Cats

Why is my cat coughing?
Why is my cat coughing?

What is Coughing?

Coughing in cats is not uncommon and the sound of your cat’s cough may be different depending on the cause. There are usually two main types, a thick, wet-sounding cough or a dry and hacking cough. Many times, your cat is just trying to clear a tickle in her throat or she may have a hairball. However, you should see a veterinarian if your cat continues to cough or has other symptoms such as fever, runny eyes or nose, weakness, loss of appetite, weight loss, trouble breathing, or wheezing. Some of the most often reported reasons for coughing are:

  • Bronchitis          
  • Feline asthma
  • Hairballs
  • Heart disease
  • Heartworm disease 
  • Pneumonia
  • Upper respiratory infection

There are some things you should watch for including coughing at night, which could be a heart problem or lung edema; coughing during exercise may be from heart disease; coughing after meals may be from a larynx or esophageal issue; and moist, phlegmy coughs are usually a sign of pneumonia.

Why Coughing Occurs in Cats

There are many reasons for your cat to cough, from minor irritation to serious and life threatening. The most common reasons for cough include:

Bronchitis

The name bronchitis refers to the inflammation of your cat’s bronchial tubes which can be acute or chronic. Acute bronchitis comes on suddenly with a harsh cough that is sometimes uncontrollable, labored breathing, wheezing, panting, breathing rapidly, and intolerance of exercise. Chronic bronchitis comes on slowly with a mild cough that eventually becomes constant and difficult to control, weakness, appetite and weight loss. Some of the causes of bronchitis are:

  • Allergy
  • Heartworm
  • Lung worm
  • Fungal infection
  • Viral infection
  • Bacterial infection

Feline Asthma

Asthma in cats is relatively common and usually due to something your cat is breathing in your home or outside. Some of the most often reported signs include a dry cough, exercise intolerance, panting, labored breathing, and gagging. The most common causes of asthma in cats are:

  • Chemicals or pollution
  • Allergy to cat litter, mildew, mold, smoke, or pollen

Cats with flat faces such as Ragdolls, Scottish Folds, Himalayans, and Persians are more susceptible to asthma.

Hairball

Almost all cats have coughed up a hairball once in their life, even if you have not witnessed it. You may find a wet pile of hair that looks like vomit somewhere in your house. Of course, it may have dried out by the time you find it. However, a hairball cough is just a short coughing spell ending with one or two piles of wet and slimy cat hair.

Heart Disease

Some types of heart disease can also cause your cat to cough such as mitral valve regurgitation, cardiomyopathy, heart failure, and endocarditis. If your cat has one of these diseases, coughing may be an early sign and can also include other signs like weakness, fluid retention (swollen belly), difficulty breathing, fainting, and exercise intolerance.

Heartworm Disease

Heartworm is a parasite (dirofilaria immitis) that attacks your cat’s heart and can cause lung disease, heart failure, and organ failure, leading to death. The severity of the symptoms depends on the amount of worms that have gotten into your cat’s system. Although this is rare, it is a serious illness that must be considered if you have not treated your cat for heartworm.  

Pneumonia

This is a serious bronchial condition where the lungs become filled with fluid, making it difficult for your cat to breathe. This is an emergency because without treatment, the lungs will continue to fill with fluid and your cat will not be able to breathe. Some of the signs besides a wet cough include blue lips and nose, green discharge from the nose, breathing heavily, and gasping for breath.

Upper Respiratory Infection        

Upper respiratory infections are a common cause of coughing. Usually, your cat will also be sneezing and breathing hard, with a fever and runny eyes and nose. There are many causes of upper respiratory infection such as chlamydia, mycoplasma, retrovirus, or Bordetella.

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What to do if your Cat is Coughing

For hairballs, there are medications your veterinarian can suggest such as mineral oil and over the counter hairball treats or gels. If your cat’s cough is accompanied by any other symptoms, you should call your veterinarian and see if you need to bring her in for a check-up. The veterinarian will most likely need to perform a complete physical and some blood tests, x-rays, an endoscopy, and maybe a lung biopsy.

If your cat is coughing uncontrollably or having trouble breathing, you should take her to an animal hospital or clinic right away.

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Prevention of Coughing

To prevent hairballs, brush your cat regularly to remove any loose fur. The veterinarian may be able to recommend a hairball remedy if you have a long haired cat that has a tendency to cough up hairballs.

You can also prevent asthma by keeping your house free from chemical odors and vacuuming often to remove any outdoor allergens.

Heartworm can be prevented by giving your cat heartworm medication prescribed by your veterinarian.  Bronchitis, pneumonia, and upper respiratory infection can be prevented by keeping your cat indoors and away from animals that may have been exposed to illness. You should also take your cat to see a veterinary professional at least once per year.

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Cost of Coughing

A cat with a cough that is persistent should be seen by the veterinarian without delay. A cough can develop into a worsening situation in cases such as pneumonia or bronchitis. The expense to treat coughing in cats will  vary, depending on the extent of the condition and the severity of it at diagnosis. For example, heartworm and pneumonia can both be expensive to treat, costing you about $1,000 to $3,000.

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Worried about the cost of treating your pet's symptoms?

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Coughing Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Spooky

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house cat

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Seven Years

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0 found helpful

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0 found helpful

Has Symptoms

Coughing, Sneezing

My healthy indoor cat got outside for an hour today. Our air quality is unhealthy today at 163. She came inside within an hour and has been coughing ever since. She was running around and fine an hour before going out. What can I do to help her? She is very tired but can walk without issue.

Aug. 14, 2018

Spooky's Owner

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0 Recommendations

There are many different measures of air quality, however an air quality rating of 163 on multiple scales normally means that there is a risk to people with preexisting respiratory conditions; without examining Spooky I cannot give you any specific advice apart from to monitor her for any other symptoms and to visit your Veterinarian if there is no improvement. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 14, 2018

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Keenum

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DOMESTIC

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1 Year

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0 found helpful

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0 found helpful

Has Symptoms

Loss Of Appetite
Wheezing
Lethargy
Coughing Aggressively

My cats breathing has been sounding more like a wheeze lately and he also lifts his head and coughs for long periods of time. He seems less interested in playing and rather sleep all times of the day which is not like him. He is both an outdoor and indoor cat. What could be wrong with him? I’ve never seen this before.

Aug. 11, 2018

Keenum's Owner

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0 Recommendations

Without examining Keenum and having a good listen to the respiratory tract it is difficult to say what is happening, if the symptoms are getting worse you should visit your Veterinarian for an examination to determine whether there is an infection, allergy, hairball, foreign object or other cause. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 12, 2018

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