Wheezing in Cats

Why is my cat wheezing?
Why is my cat wheezing?

What is Wheezing?

If your cat is wheezing, it could mean that there is a medical issue that should be investigated. Wheezing can be described as a whistling sound when your cat is breathing, and in some cases it may seem like your pet is having an asthma attack. Although this can be alarming, in most cases there is no need to panic. Many causes of your cat wheezing can be cured easily by your vet. Some of the causes for wheezing include:

  • Hairball
  • Bone structure of the face (in brachycephalic cat breeds)
  • Lungworms and heartworms
  • Allergies
  • Asthma

Although many of these illnesses are not serious if caught early, wheezing is something that should not be overlooked. If your cat’s wheezing is persistent, then you may want to consider taking your feline for a visit to the vet as it could mean something serious. If ignored, some of the causes, for example worms and blood clots, can become very dangerous for your cat’s health.

Why Wheezing Occurs in Cats

Wheezing is an abnormal sound that is caused by a narrowing of your cat’s airways due to constriction, partial blockage, inflammation or other health issues. Cats of all breeds and ages are susceptible to wheezing, depending on the cause. Wheezing can be caused by:

Hairballs

Hairballs are common and usually not dangerous for cats. They occur when your cat grooms itself, and some of the hair will accumulate in their stomach. They will eventually need to cough it up, or it will get blocked. The symptoms will include coughing, vomiting and wheezing. In most cases, hairballs are natural and completely harmless. Hairballs are more common in long-haired breeds, like Persian and Maine Coon, for example, as well as cats who groom very often or shed a lot. As cats get older, they become more adept at grooming themselves, so you may notice that your kitten will develop more hairballs as it gets older. If you notice that your cat has developed a lack of appetitelethargy, diarrhea, constipation or is vomiting or gagging continuously without producing a hairball, you should contact your vet immediately as it could mean that your pet has a blockage that could potentially be life-threatening.

Facial Bone Structure

Believe it or not, the shape of your cat’s face can actually cause breathing abnormalities. For example, if your cat has a flat face, like the Persian or Himalayan does, the bone structure could sometimes make it harder for them to breathe. This can make their airways sound obstructed, which could mimic a wheezing sound, or it could actually cause wheezing. These flat-faced breeds (called brachycephalic) also often have wet and runny noses that can contribute to wheezing by clogging up the airways. 

Lungworms or Heartworms

Both lungworms and heartworms are dangerous parasites that can live in your feline’s lungs. They can cause many symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing, weakness, loss of appetite, vomiting and lethargy. These symptoms are also common in many respiratory problems, which can keep the parasites undetected for a long time. This can be very dangerous, as heartworms in cats can cause heartworm associated respiratory disease. This condition causes coughing, labored breathing and wheezing. Heartworms are transmitted through mosquitoes and the condition can be fatal if not taken care of.

Allergies

Allergies in cats usually occur when the immune system is overly sensitive and starts identifying some substances as dangerous. Common allergens are inhalants like dust, pollen, chemicals or smoke that cause nasal congestion. They can also cause your pet to get itchy skin, hair loss, rashes, limb swelling, sneezing, wheezing and coughing. These symptoms can sometimes be seasonal, depending on the allergy. Some cats can even be allergic to foods, which means, once diagnosed, that you will have to avoid feeding your cat anything that contains these foods.

Asthma

Asthma is a reaction to inhaled allergens that trigger the immune system and cause the airways to constrict. They can be triggered by pretty much any airborne particle, but dust, molds and pollen are some of the most common. If serious, asthma attacks can be fatal. It is important to get your cat checked and to know the signs of an asthma attack. They usually occur after long periods of exercise, and the cat will show signs of coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing. Asthma attacks can sometimes become worse and more common in the wintertime due to the dryness in the air. Cats are usually diagnosed between the age of 4 and 5.

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What to do if your Cat is Wheezing

If your cat seems to be wheezing often then a veterinary visit is warranted. If the wheezing does not persist, you should pay close attention and monitor the symptom, but going to the vet may be unnecessary as your cat could have just had a hairball.

If by looking at the symptoms you believe that your cat has a different illness, like lung worm or heartworm, is having a severe asthma attack, or is showing great difficulty breathing in any way, then you should bring them to the nearest vet immediately. Some hairball remedies include grooming your cat regularly, discouraging excessive grooming, giving them products and laxatives that are meant to help the hairballs pass through the digestive tract, or even hairball remedy foods.

There are also medications for your cat’s allergies. For example, if your cat has an allergy to airborne pollens, there are cortisone and steroids that may be prescribed by your vet, as well as allergy injections. Fatty acids can also help reduce your pet’s itchy skin. Treatments for asthma include corticosteroids that will help reduce inflammation in the lungs.

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Prevention of Wheezing

If it has been determined that your cat has an allergy, you should keep your cat from having contact with the allergen in order to prevent the symptoms. Antihistamines, like Benadryl, can also be used as a preventative before your cat has come into contact with the allergen. 

To prevent hairballs, discourage your cat from over grooming or give them a specialized product or food that is designed to help the hairballs pass. Giving your pet a diet that is high in fibers may also help. Sometimes, letting your cat eat grass can aid in vomiting hairballs. At this time there is not any known medication for heartworm in cats. In mild cases, your vet may decide to wait for the parasite to clear on its own, but severe cases may require oxygen, bronchodilators and prednisone in order to reduce the inflammation in the lungs. Prevention of heartworm is crucial in felines. Lungworms can be treated with anti-parasitic medications like Levamisole, Ivermectin, Fenbendazole and Praziquantel. If your brachycephalic cat seems to be experiencing difficulty breathing due to its flat face, you should bring them to the vet to get advice on treatment.

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Cost of Wheezing

Depending on the cause of your cat’s wheezing, treatment range moderately priced to expensive. The average cost if your cat is having trouble with hairballs is $150. Heartworms can be dangerous, and pricey to take care of. The average cost for treating heartworms can be $1000. To treat your cat for lungworm it will cost about $250.

The symptoms of wheezing can be expensive to treat. To avoid high vet care expenses, secure pet health insurance today. The sooner you insure your pet, the more protection you’ll have from unexpected vet costs.

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Wheezing Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Princess

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Ragdoll

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3 Years

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2 found helpful

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2 found helpful

Has Symptoms

Wheezing. Nose Dischargew

My cat has ongoing wheezing with a runny nose. We have took her to the vets before for a course of antibiotics which worked for a couple of months but it coming back, I have other cats that have no issues and I don't know wether to keep taking her back for more antibiotics or get her a supplement

Aug. 11, 2018

Princess' Owner

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2 Recommendations

It is possible that Princess is picking up a small infection which requires a course of antibiotics, however if this is a regular occurrence we would be thinking about checking for any other underlying issues and to test to identify the infection and the most suitable antibiotic for that infection in case the broad spectrum antibiotics are just suppressing the infection but not curing it. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

Aug. 12, 2018

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Rookie

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domestic short hair

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5 Months

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2 found helpful

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2 found helpful

Has Symptoms

Sneeze
Wheezing

My five month old kitten occasionally wheezes like she is going to cough up a hairball and then doesn't. She wheezes for about a minute and is then back to normal. Most recently it happened immediately after she sneezed. This isn't a persistent issue, I've seen it happen three times in six weeks. What could be causing this (and how worried should I be)?

July 27, 2018

Rookie's Owner


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2 Recommendations

There are many possible causes for the symptoms you’re describing which may or may not be serious; airway obstruction, laryngeal disorders, nausea among other causes may lead to wheezing. If it is infrequent and Rookie isn’t struggling to breathe you should keep a close eye but if it gets worse or more frequent you should visit your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

July 28, 2018

My cat has been wheezing for 2 days whilst breathing and he just doesn’t seem to be himself. He doesn’t even eat or go out much in the past two days

Aug. 1, 2018

Taylor W.

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