Cat coughing

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Coughing is a common problem in cats.

Here are the key points we’ll discuss in our post:


Causes of Coughing in Cats

  • Upper Respiratory Infection
  • Hairballs
  • Asthma
  • Heartworms
  • Lung Cancer
  • Congestive heart failure

How To Treat & Manage Coughing In Cats

  • Hospitalization
  • Cough suppressants
  • Following through on medication
  • Keep in close contact with the Vet

Causes of Coughing in Cats

Upper Respiratory Infection

If your cat starts coughing, this could be an indication that they’re experiencing inflammatory issues in their upper or lower respiratory paths (particularly bronchitis). However, if this happens rather suddenly, the most probable cause is an infection in their upper respiratory tract.

Other than coughing, these conditions also bring about symptoms such as congestion, sneezing, runny nose, gagging, nasal discharge and loss of appetite.


If you have been a cat parent for a long time, then you are familiar with that tell-tale hacky-acky sound that cats make. It is the cough that comes right before your cat throws up a hairball or an object that was causing an obstruction.

Usually, when your cat coughs, its either something stuck in the airway or there is an infection in the airway.

You can check out our list of bed cat food for hairballs.


Another reason why your cat could be coughing is if they’re suffering from asthma. Asthma is an allergic and obstructive disease, which affects quite a number of cats. Other conditions that manifest the same way asthma does, include bronchial asthma and bronchitis.

Your kitty may be more vulnerable based on their age, health status and gender. More specifically, asthma is prevalent in cats aged between 2 and 8 years. Siamese cats are also at a higher risk for bronchitis and asthma.

Clinical signs of asthma in cats include respiratory distress and coughing. Cats with asthma have trouble breathing, prefer open-mouth breathing and experience shortness of breath.

In addition, you may notice that your cat likes to assume a squatting position, with the neck extended out during a coughing episode. Vets call this the orthopneic position.

The cat also makes wheezing sounds that are clearly audible when you use a stethoscope. In some cases, the wheezing is loud enough that the owner can hear it from a distance. Occasionally, your cat will sneeze and even vomit.


Parasitic worms- like heartworms- and allergies can also cause coughing or respiratory issues in cats.


The symptoms that your cat displays when they’re infected with heartworms are similar to those they’ll show when they have something obstructing their airway.

Lung Cancer

Other than coughing, symptoms of lung cancer in cats might include difficulty breathing, pain, lethargy, rapid breathing, coughing up blood and loss of weight.

Congestive Heart Failure

Coughing is not always linked to heart disease in cats, as is usually the case in dogs and us humans. However, when your cat has congestive heart failure, the heart may not be able to push enough blood around the body, and this may cause a build up of fluids within the lungs.

Congestive heart failure is caused by thickening of heart tissues, thyroid disease, birth defects or high blood pressure. If your cat has this condition, you will notice that they cough frequently. They’ll also have difficulty breathing, general weakness, and a poor appetite.


For your vet to narrow down the cause of coughing in your cat and reach a preliminary diagnosis, you have to provide a detailed history of your cat’s overall health, recent activities, as well as onset symptoms.

It’s very easy to confuse sneezing and coughing in cats, so the vet will examine your cat to find out whether what you reported is a cough or sneeze. In fact, they both sound almost the same, so you need to be very attentive when it happens.

Watch out for outward differences. For instance, a cat’s mouth stays closed when sneezing and open when coughing.So, look out for these differences.

The frequency and pattern of coughing helps to determine why your cat is coughing. The vet will inquire about duration, frequency, timing, characteristics and pattern of the coughs. Thus, it is important that you take note of all the symptoms your cat shows before you visit the vet.

The vet will have to evaluate the cough to find out if it is non-productive or productive. Your cat’s vet will induce a cough artificially. If it’s productive, you are likely to see fluids, mucus and secretions. However, if the cough is non-productive, no secretions, fluids or mucous will be expelled.

Coughs are linked to various diseases, so a thorough analysis is important in order for the vet to come up with the correct diagnosis.

Once the vet understands your cat’s history and performs a physical exam, the next step  is a full blood count, biochemistry profile as well as a urinalysis in the laboratory. A full blood work helps to determine whether it’s an infection or allergy based on the number of white blood cells in your cat’s blood.

Biochemical tests are used to find out if your cat has elevated levels of liver enzymes or any abnormalities that may explain your cat’s condition.

If your pet is also bleeding from the nose or is coughing up droplets of blood, the vet will carry out tests on blood clotting. This will help determine whether blood clotting functions are operating normally.

Other tools that your vet might use include radiography, computed tomography scans as well as magnetic resonance imaging. All these tests are extremely important when it comes to finding the root cause of a cough.

For a closer peek at your cat’s respiratory tract, the vet may opt to use a device known as the laryngoscope or bronchoscope. Both of these offer visualization of the parts that make up the upper respiratory tract. They are effective at locating respiratory parasites.


The main aim of treating your cat is to sort out the primary cause, along with the symptom itself. Resolving the main cause will cure your cat’s cough.

In case the cough is severe, your cat may have to be hospitalized for intensive treatment and care. Oxygen may be provided if your cat has trouble breathing normally, and a broad spectrum antibiotics will be administered to treat any infection that causes coughing in cats.

Your cat may also be given cough suppressants after the vet has reached a diagnosis. But,  this will depend on the severity of the cough. In some cases, cough suppressants don’t really work, especially for cats with a respiratory infection. In addition, suppressing a cough will not cause it to go away.

Living and Management

Diagnosing the issues causing your cat to cough might require an in depth diagnostic process. For that reason, ensure you follow your vet’s instructions to the letter. If the vet prescribes antibiotics, it is important that you do not miss any details in between. Give your cat the full dose, even if it seems the cough is gone.

Some people forget to follow through the course once the cat is feeling better. If that happens, the problem that the vet treated might return and your cat may end up being worse than before.

Keep in touch with your vet throughout the course of treatment. Relay the necessary information regarding your pet’s response to medication. Take your cat to the vet for a follow-up. This will help the vet assess your cat’s response to treatment and determine the status of the treated disease.

The vet may have to adjust medication to suit your pet’s current condition. Take care when administering medication to the cat because drugs, including suppressants, can harm your them when given in excess dosages.

Bottom Line

Cats cough too, and the cause could be an infection in the upper airway, congestive heart failure, heartworms, hairballs, lung cancer or even asthma. If you notice that your pet has coughs, have your vet carry out a diagnosis to find out the cause and prescribe the right treatment.

As always, when you’re in doubt, reach out to your vet regarding cat coughing. Be sure you note your cat’s symptoms and when they started. The details you document will assist your vet in coming up with the right diagnosis. The vet will also be able to prescribe the right treatment to get your cat back into good shape.

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