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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.

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.

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.

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.

Coughing Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Bennie
Shorthair Domestic
4 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

coughing, constipation

Our cat was diagnosed with asthma by a veterinarian and was prescribed oral steroids and a cat inhaler. We have been using the oral steroids for months now because the inhaler makes him cough even worse. It has been probably a year since he was first diagnosed and he has recently started coughing multiple times a day even though he is still on the steroids. He coughs mostly when he's sleeping and most times after physical activity. Also, when we first took him to see the vet he was constipated and his bowels were full. His stomach feels full and somewhat hard now and could be from full bowels again. I am coming here instead of going to the vet because I am a student and cannot afford to go to the vet for the fourth time this year for him to see me for 10 minutes and give me no additional information or diagnosis. Thank you in advance for your help!

I had two maybe three cats with problems like this, it turned out to be candida or fungal and diluted grapefruit seed extract (in the water bowl) helped enough to keep them off medications and live 13 and 16 years. Sweet Pea and Shari respectively. Always dilute this product and I recommend Nutribiotics as the best one on the market and you can get it online. Ebay has it as well as others. If you have not looked into Systemic Candida before it will be an eye opener for many ailments people have also. Dogs too I am sure. It worked on an ear infection for a dog that nothing else would solve. Yeast is a bigger problem than people are aware of--anti biotics are part of the poblem Love Mother Patricia Marie Babin

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Sooti
Housecat
13 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Wet Cough

Our 13 year old male cat has a persistent wet cough, he is an outdoor cat and eats and plays like normal, he is slightly overweight but joins us on walks on our farm. He has had the cough for several weeks and his condition has not worsened or gotten better.

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Marbouh
Tuxedo
12 Months
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Fever
Loss of Appetite
Wheezing
Coughing
Gagging
Vomiting
Hair Loss
Hairball

Medication Used

Antibiotics - 2 ml/day for a week
Vogalène
Phosphalugel ( 5ml 3 times/day)

3 days ago my one year old male cat started gagging and vomitted.
The following day he started gagging again, it sounded a lot like coughing.
He vomitted a hairball at 8 am.
He vomitted undigested food a 1pm.
I took him to the vet who gave him a shot of god know what, then prescribed Antibiotics and Nausea medicine for one week. And Aluminum Phosphate for 3 days.
The cat was still eating normally despite vomitting.
Today he vomitted bile only, stopped eating yesterday night and he vomitted some foamy liquid as I tried to give him his medicine.
I am taking him to the veterinary clinic in 2 hours. He hasen't stopped gagging in 3 days.
I don't trust that the vet had diagnosed him well, as he only took his temperature. He had fever and looses a lot of hair.
He has been castrated a week ago, and the symptoms have been going on for 3 days.

How did you make out? I just wondered if he is ok? When one of my males was fixed he was very distraught from the drugs and likely the surgery. He is still this way. It could be another reason but I wonder

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Pepper
Tortoiseshell
2 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

My bf and I went to Portland for a week back in January. When we got back so LA in February our cat Pepper randomly had this loud long coughing fit that scared the shit out of us at 2am. She was sleeping and woke up to cough. Then the next night same thing, but less intense. I took her to the vet and the vet said to wait as she’s not that bad yet. So we waited. There has also been construction in an apt downstairs. Perhaps that’s why shes been having the issue? It’s now mid March and yesterday she had a coughing fit again, but it looking like maybe she was swallowing during the cough. I took a video and my friends with cats think it’s an “almost” hairball. This happens at random now it seems a few times a month and she always goes back to normal. She runs around the house a lot. The vet didn’t sound alarmed when I tried to ask for further examination/meds Last week. She said they’d check her again and charge for xrays to confirm whether or not it’s asthma. Xrays are wayyyy to expensive. :(

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Simba
Ragdoll cross
10 Months
Fair condition
0 found helpful
Fair condition

Hi my male cat had a coughing fit two nights ago for around 10 seconds.. and from then has been grooming/itching all over! He has done this before around 5 times over the past 8 months or so! He is a ragdoll cross he seems alright otherwise although hasn’t eaten much since.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1610 Recommendations
Simba may have an allergy, or a bacterial or viral infection. It would be best to have him examined by a veterinarian to assess his breathing, and the cough, to make sure that he is okay.

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Keenum
DOMESTIC
1 Year
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Coughing aggressively
Lethargy
Wheezing
Loss of Appetite

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.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 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

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Ralph
Domestic longhair
12 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Coughing

Hi, my kitty coughs on occasion in the crouching position with his neck extended and it will last about 10 to 30 seconds. I adopted him almost 2 years ago and he's always done this, about 3-4 times a month, sometimes accompanied by a gagging sound immediately preceding the cough. Is this normal or is this an ongoing chronic problem? I can't figure out what is considered "frequent" coughing in cats and what is normal. I mentioned this to my vet over a year ago and he said "cats don't cough". Please advise. Thanks!

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
These episodes are not frequent but are regular, there are many possible causes but hairballs are a common issue in cats and it may be with time Ralph has an issue with them. Without examining him I cannot determine if there is any other cause, but the frequency isn’t concerning since it is months between episodes; I would keep an eye on it for now but bring it up again at your next visit and get a video of an episode to show your Veterinarian if possible. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Hi, my cat is about 6 years old. He’s randomly coughing every few days. He’ll have a small fit for a minute or two, then he proceeds about his day as usual. Eating, playing sleeping etc. no hairballs when he coughs though. He’s an indoor kitty so he isn’t exposed to much at all. What could this be from, no color change or phlegm when he’s coughing. Just an unproductive cough.

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Gunther
tabby
5 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Hacking
Moist/wet sound
Coughing

Hello, my cat has been coughing for the past several months. It's like a moist hacking sound but nothing ever comes up. I've tried hairball remedies but nothing seems to alleviate his hacking. He does this hacking several times a day.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1610 Recommendations
Causes for coughing in cats can include hairballs, allergies, asthma, lung tumors or infections, or fungal disease Since this has been going on for a while, it would be a good idea to have him seen by a veterinarian, as they can listen to his lungs and examine him and see what might be going on.

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Athena
Diluted Siamese
One Year
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Coughing fits

My cat has quite a few coughing fits. I have a humidifier that I keep in the bedroom that seems to help reduce the amount of coughing fits. These episodes will go on for about a minute. The cough sounds deep and sometimes wet but she never coughs anything up. She also will kind of sigh or breathe in deeply and loudly at random times and it kind of sounds a little laboured for those one or two breaths. She will have these fits every day or two and sometimes seems exercise induced so she will have multiple episodes in one day. Should I have a vet look at her or should I stick with the humidifier since it seems to help significantly?

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1610 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. It would be best to have Athena examined by a veterinarian, and possibly have chest x-rays taken, as she may have an underlying problem that needs to be treated. Cats can develop bacterial or fungal infections of the lungs, or asthma, among other things. The humidifier may be a part of her treatment, but without knowing what is going on with her breathing, you run the risk of it worsening without treatment. I hope that everything goes well for her.

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Rocky
Siamese/Ragdoll mix
1 Year
Mild condition
1 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Coughing

Hi, over the last two days I have noticed Rocky coughing. He’ll crouch down, extend his neck, and have a short coughing fit for about 5 seconds, then quit this will go on several times through out the day. His appetite has been fine, no problem passing stool, no lethargy. His behavior hasn’t changed either. His mouth is also closed when he coughs. Prior to the coughing fits, I’d say a day before hand, he would pant after lots of play.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1610 Recommendations
Rocky may have a hairball that is irritating him, but other causes for coughing in cats can include asthma, heartworm disease, or heart conditions. Since I cannot see him and this is a relatively new behavior, it would be best to have him seen by your veterinarian, as they can assess his cardiovascular and respiratory systems, and recommend any testing or treatment that he may need.

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Parker
tabby
3 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

cough
Sneeze

Our cat was sneezing (which, after seeing the vet, appeared to be possible allergies—he went outside briefly with pollen around/we were painting). The vet didn’t see anything wrong with him. Since then, he has stopped sneezing, but the last two or three days he briefly (about a second or so) makes a hacking/furball sound after eating. It’s new...could this be part of the sneezing from before?

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1610 Recommendations
It seems that those things might be related, possibly, as they are all sort of in the same area of the body. Since your veterinarian just saw him, it might be a good idea to call them and let them know that Parker is doing this cough, and see if that concerns them at all.

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Olivia
American Short Hair
2 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Coughing

My cat has been having a coughing spell about once a day for the past week or so. Her other habits have not changed and when we went to the vet in June she was 100% healthy. Two weeks ago we did go on vacation for a week and when we got back her breakaway collar was off and a light and alarm clock was knock off my night stand. I am not sure if the coughing has to do with that but she let me rub her neck without pulling away or crying out.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1610 Recommendations
Olivia's coughing may be related to trauma to her neck if that occurred with her collar, but without seeing her, I'm not sure if that is the case. If the coughing has continued for over a week, it might be a good idea to have her examined by a veterinarian to see if she needs any treatment.

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Spooky
house cat
Seven Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

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.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 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

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