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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.

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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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Coughing Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Spooky

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house cat

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Seven Years

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

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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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

Aug. 14, 2018

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Keenum

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DOMESTIC

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1 Year

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Lethargy
Loss Of Appetite
Wheezing
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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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

Aug. 12, 2018

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Gunther

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tabby

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5 Years

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Moderate severity

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0 found helpful

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Moderate severity

Has Symptoms

Coughing
Hacking
Moist/Wet Sound

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.

July 26, 2018

Gunther's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 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.

July 26, 2018

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Parker

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tabby

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3 Years

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

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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?

July 25, 2018

Parker's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 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.

July 25, 2018

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Olivia

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American Short Hair

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2 Years

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

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.

July 18, 2018

Olivia's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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1611 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.

July 18, 2018

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Meemo

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Domestic shorthair

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3 Years

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

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Coughing

My 3 yrold domestic shorthair has begun coughing at night here and there...not every night (that I know of) and I've never seen him do it daytime. Otherwise he acts completely fine and energetic.

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Jafar

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Shorthair Domestic

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6 Years

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Coughing

My little boy has a problem as well. It all started 3 weeks ago, when he started gagging while I was studying. He was eating and running around playing just before. The thing is, he started coughing and then pulled out his tongue out and was still kind of gagging /coughing. I jumped out of scare and when I got to him, he immediately stopped and looked confused,as if nothing had happened. I took him to the vet the next day because it was around 1am when it all happened. The vet said his lungs and heart sounded just fine and that he probably choke onto his food or maybe an insect he maybe found. But ever since, it happened 3 times again. He starts coughing (sounds like he has something in there, I don't know how to explain it) and pulls out his tongue. I'm thinking of taking him back to the vet and asking for a blood test as a start. If the results are okay, I guess it's just hairballs? I forgot to mention, he kicks his furr and washes himself ALL THE TIME. It's really annoying sometimes, because it lasts for 30 minutes, he just doesn't want to stop. But then again, we moved into a new flat two months ago. Maybe he's got an allergy? I'm so worried

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Pepper

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Tortoiseshell

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2 Years

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

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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Marbouh

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Tuxedo

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12 Months

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Serious severity

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0 found helpful

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Fever
Loss Of Appetite
Wheezing
Coughing
Gagging
Vomiting
Hair Loss
Hairball

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.

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Sooti

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Housecat

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13 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

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.