Coughing is relatively common. However, we can’t help but worry when we hear someone cough in this day and age.
So, when you notice your cat gagging or retching or making other cough-like sounds, one question that pops into mind is – why is my cat coughing? Is it normal for cats to cough, or does this already require veterinary attention?
Yes, a cat coughing is not a common sight. Seeing a cat cough isn’t pretty either. What’s more, as loving pet parents, it’s something that can make you and your feline friend feel uneasy and distressed.
This is especially true when your coughing cat does not show any signs of improvement or when a cat’s cough starts to interfere with its everyday life.
But, don’t worry. FelineLiving is here to tell you everything you need to know about coughing in cats – its causes, treatment, and more.
Do Cats Cough? Why Is My Cat Coughing?
A cough is the body’s expulsive response to irritants like mucus, dust, and the like. This spontaneous, involuntary movement is a physiological defensive mechanism to keep the airways free from any obstruction or to expel any foreign bodies or build-up secretions.
As mentioned, coughing is typical among humans, including animals. A protective reflex action, it’s pretty useful when it comes to protecting and clearing up the larynx or the part of the throat that contains the voice box, the smaller airways in the lungs (bronchi), and other parts of the respiratory tract.
So, if you heard your cat making a “barking”-like sound, your cat can have a cough. However, coughing in cats doesn’t happen as frequently as in other animals and humans.
Common Causes Of Coughing In Cats
Did your cat cough? Since coughing exists for a reason – more often to protect your cat – a cat coughing simply means something is amiss.
Your cat’s coughing can be caused by something as trivial as having tight collars. On the other hand, it can also signal the presence of a life-threatening underlying problem that requires medical attention. Whatever is the cause behind your cat’s coughing, you’ll surely find the reason down below.
Inhalation Of A Foreign Body
Most cats hack up hairballs every now and then. Don’t worry, though. This is fairly normal. Coughing, which often triggers a gag reflex, aka “vomiting,” helps remove all the loose hair your cat has swallowed while grooming.
Besides hairballs, your cat’s cough can also be triggered by various things found in your cat’s environment. This includes grass, cat litter, and other irritants that can enter your cat’s airways, including inhaled liquids, gases, and tiny particles like powder.
Respiratory infections are among the most common causes of coughing in cats. Bacteria, viruses, and fungus can cause respiratory infection.
However, 80-90% of upper respiratory tract infections are viral (think feline herpesvirus and feline calicivirus), while the remaining are often triggered by bacteria (like chlamydia and bordetella) and fungus.
Although rare, cats may catch histoplasmosis, aka “fungal lung infection,” if your cat is the type who loves the outdoors and loves playing with soil. Why? These fungi are often found in soil. When inhaled, this results in a respiratory infection that affects the lower airways, lungs, intestines, and other body parts if it is not caught early.
Can cats get COVID-19? According to VCA Hospitals, it’s rare for cats to contract COVID-19 from humans, but it’s still possible. However, no evidence suggests that animals can transmit this virus to humans.
Apart from fungus, bacteria, and viruses, your cat’s cough can also be a symptom of some other condition caused by parasites. This includes parasitic worms like roundworms and heartworms.
A cat catching roundworms and other parasitic nematodes from rodents or birds that have eaten a snail or slug with worms can develop a lungworm infection in the lower respiratory tract. Cats who get infected show signs of pneumonia and bronchitis. Symptoms range from moderate to persistent coughing, as well as labored breathing and respiratory failure.
On the other hand, according to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, your cat contracting heartworms from a mosquito can result in feline heartworm disease. These parasites often settle in their victim’s heart or the nearby blood vessels.
Cough is a common symptom, but cats can also exhibit other signs like gagging, vomiting, and labored breathing – symptoms often seen in cats with feline asthma.
Feline Asthma, Allergy, & Chronic Bronchitis
Allergy is the immune system’s reaction to allergens (such as pollen and dust). On the other hand, asthma is a chronic lung disease characterized by narrowing airways, difficulty breathing, and accumulation of mucus.
While asthma can be a non-allergic reaction, allergy and asthma usually go hand in hand. In fact, some of the triggers causing allergies in cats might just be the same things that set off your cat’s asthma.
Chronic bronchitis, like asthma, is one of the inflammatory conditions that can cause coughing. It is also a common feline respiratory disorder. However, unlike asthma which is often a hypersensitivity reaction, the underlying cause of chronic bronchitis remains unknown.
Also known as “fluid in chest,” pleural effusion refers to the accumulation of liquid in the chest cavity lined by a membrane called pleural lining. Besides coughing, other symptoms include open-mouth breathing, lack of appetite, bluish skin, increased rate of breathing, and lethargy.
Its causes also vary. It can range from overhydration and heartworm disease to liver disease and congestive heart failure.
Other Underlying Conditions
In humans and dogs, coughing is often associated with heart disease – BUT the same doesn’t apply to cats. Coughing caused by heart failure or disease is rare. More often than not, a cat coughing is often linked to respiratory problems, including cancer in the lungs and chest tumors.
Difference Between Wet Cough & Dry Cough
When a cat is coughing, it pays to notice what type of cough your cat is making – if it is wet or dry. Why? Knowing the difference between the two becomes handy, especially when diagnosing the cause of cat coughing.
This is often triggered by an infection and accompanied by phlegm – a thick mucus secreted within the respiratory tract. While the excessive secretions can create a crackling sound in the throat and feel icky and uncomfortable, this helps flush out the disease-causing elements from the lungs.
A dry cough is characterized by a wheezing or honking sound. Dry, phlegm-free coughs are frequently related to asthma, cancer, and other inhaled foreign materials.
When To Bring Your Cat To A Vet?
There’s no need to panic when a cat coughs occasionally. After all, your cat’s cough might just be caused by a hairball getting stuck in the throat of your cat.
However, certain instances call for your cat to visit the vet. As such, it’s essential to maintain a watchful eye and pay attention to the condition of your cat. If your cat has an ongoing or severe cough and shows other symptoms, then seeking the help of a pet care expert who can provide medical advice is ideal.
Other signs to watch out for include the following:
Cough With Wheezing
Wheezing is often a symptom of cat asthma. Because of the inflammation and narrowing of the lower airways, a wheezing sound is produced. And since the passageways are all swelled up, it’s possible that your cat is not be getting enough oxygen into its lungs. If this happens, your cat’s tongue and gums can turn blue.
Cough With Sneezing
Apart from your cat coughing, your cat can also be sneezing. This usually happens in cats suffering from an upper respiratory or viral infection. The discharge flows in the throat and causes coughing.
If a cat is coughing up blood, consider this a red flag. Trauma, poisoning, cancer, and severe infections are the common causes of cough with blood – all of which will require immediate veterinary assistance.
Something is definitely wrong if your cat is coughing continuously and losing weight at the same time. Parasites or an infection might be the culprit behind your cat’s condition.
Diagnosing Cough In Cats
Finding out the underlying cause of your cat’s cough can be tricky and will require extensive investigation. Apart from thoroughly checking your cat’s medical history, your cat will also have to undergo a physical examination. This includes taking various tests such as chest x-rays and regular blood and fecal tests.
Common Cough Treatments
Treatment depends mainly on your cat’s diagnosis. So, finding out the root cause of your cat’s coughing is a MUST to treat cough successfully.
Giving your cat cough suppressants may help lessen the frequency of coughing, but it does not solve the problem. Other drugs or other therapies might be prescribed to treat the root cause.
Treatment for hairballs only requires regular grooming, while bronchodilators and anti-inflammatory drugs will work best for feline asthma.
Antibiotics can be used as a primary or secondary treatment for infections caused by viruses and bacteria. Take note, however, that this treatment should be given as prescribed (often within a 2-week period) to avoid re-infection.
Food For Thought
Yes, all we want is for our cats to maintain good health and live long, happy lives. Unfortunately, no matter how careful and meticulous we are with our cat’s food, shelter, and everything else, our cats will get sick one way or another.
Coughing is one thing they have to face every now and then. A few coughs here and there are alright. However, severe and persistent cough accompanied with other symptoms must be dealt with accordingly.
And like humans, it’s best to avoid self-medication. While over-the-counter cough suppressants might help reduce the bouts of coughing, it doesn’t address the main issue.
At the end of the day, your best course of action is to talk to your local vet. After all, they know what treatment will best work for your cat’s specific condition.
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