A cat coughing up a hairball.
A cat coughing up a hairball. Photography by Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock.

Is Your Cat Coughing? Here’s What’s Going On

Is cat coughing ever normal or a serious cause for concern? Here’s how to decipher the different types of cat coughing and what to do about each.
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Like humans, cats experience irritation in their lungs, throats and airways, which might result in coughing. Some of the causes of cat coughing are simple to treat, while others are potentially life threatening. That’s why it’s important to recognize symptoms of different types of cat coughing — and seek treatment if necessary.

First, what does cat coughing sound like?

Close up of a cat screaming, yawning or making another noise with mouth open.
Is your cat coughing? Could something serious be at hand? Photography ©csivasz | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

Cat coughing can present in several ways: moist; dry and hacking; and gagging or wheezing. Identifying the type of cough will help determine the course of action.

What causes cat coughing?

Coughing is a function of the respiratory system, so cat coughing is often a sign that there’s some sort of irritation or inflammation involving that system. It’s not always the case, though. Leave it to cats to keep us guessing!

1. Hairballs

We all know that telltale hacky-acky sound — it’s the cough that precedes vomiting up a hairball. Dr. Jean Hofve says, “In my experience, there are two main reasons for cats to cough: a stubborn hairball, and feline asthma.

2. Upper respiratory infections

A sudden onset of coughing could indicate an upper respiratory infection, which is common in cats. In addition to coughing, other symptoms could include sneezing, congestion, runny nose, coughing, nasal discharge, gagging and decreased appetite.

3. Asthma

A cat with a history of coughing might have asthma. Like in humans, asthma causes the immune system to go into overdrive, which causes inflammation. What that means to the respiratory system is that the swelling could affect the lungs and airways, making breathing difficult. In extreme cases, the inflammation may cause life-threatening distress.

4. Heartworms

Heartworms are spread by mosquitoes and the symptoms are similar to asthma signs. (And just when we thought mosquitoes couldn’t get any more annoying!)

5. Lung cancer

In addition to coughing, lung cancer symptoms may include pain, difficulty breathing, rapid breathing, lethargy, weight loss and coughing up blood.

6. Congestive heart failure

When the heart can’t pump enough blood into the body, fluid might back up in the lungs. This is congestive heart failure. Although it’s usually caused by the thickening of the heart’s walls, it could also come from high blood pressure, thyroid disease or birth defects. A cat with congestive heart failure will cough, have trouble breathing, exhibit weakness and loss of appetite or — sadly — even die suddenly.

How to treat cat coughing

The treatment for cat coughing depends on the type of cough and the causes behind it.

Allergens like pollen, mold, cat litter, dust and cigarette smoke might trigger asthma. Removing these allergens from the home may help the symptoms. Arden Moore, pet health and safety coach, says, “A cat with new litter might start to cough due to high dust inhaled from the litter (sadly, often a bargain brand that is anything but a health bargain to the poor cat).” In chronic asthma cases, veterinarians might prescribe a steroid treatment.

For upper respiratory infections and heartworms, a veterinarian may prescribe medications and perhaps send you home with instructions to help kitty’s recovery go smoothly.

If the cat is otherwise in good health, you can try a dose or two of Vaseline (a good finger-full by mouth),” Dr. Hofve advises on at-home remedies for cat coughing. “If it’s fur, it can often be lubricated and pushed out with the stool.”

When to see a vet about cat coughing

If your cat starts coughing, and you’ve ruled out hairballs and tried simple allergen removal, it’s time to visit the vet. “If that [Vaseline treatment] doesn’t work, or if kitty is distressed by the coughing, then it’s time to see your veterinarian,” Dr. Hofve says. “Of course, if the cat is having trouble breathing, seek emergency veterinary care immediately.”

As always, when in doubt, contact your veterinarian about cat coughing. Being able to describe the cough and any details about behavior or environment will help the professional in determining the reason for the coughing and treating it accordingly.

Thumbnail: Photography by Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock.

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12 thoughts on “Is Your Cat Coughing? Here’s What’s Going On”

  1. New post: I have 2 cats- brother and sister. Both 2 years old- One got to where she hacking too frequently so took to vet. Broncitus asthma- the other cat started hacking about the time I received Med for 1st cat. He is still hacking– It’s hard to think of them BOTH having Broncial asthma? Any thoughts? Thank u

  2. I am in a very bad position! I take care of a couple feral cats that live somewhere in the woods behind my house. One of the (their sisters) has become pregnant. The problems are: they both have a horrible cough, I can’t get rid of their fleas and I’m not financially in a position to take them to a vet. I’ve been feeding them and letting them come into my kitchen when it’s a bad storm or it’s to hot out and I have air, since they started coming around with their mom when they were just about 8wks old. Their mom has since disappeared and now their almost 2 yes old. One of them gave birth in the woods 3 days ago and last night actually moved her 6 kittens under my bathroom sink. She got in through the back sliding door not being shut all the way. She has that cough and fleas and I don’t know what to do! I don’t want these kittens to die.

    1. google rescue groups in your town. There are catch and release programs to where they will at least come trap the cats, fix them, give them shots and release them back to where they picked them up. There is help. You can also call a vet and they can give you advise for feral cats. Make sure they go to a no kill rescue

    2. It includes BATH. Buy some Palmolive Dish Liquid to bathe them . If that not possible, then get Fabric Softner Sheets. One for each cat and rub all over ,tail,paws and around eyes ,mouth ,nose, etc. And why you do this ,get a nightlight (white or clear ) some gooy pads or good sticky tape.
      Lay tape sticky side up in front of nitelight then be sure to have a hard wire or something cats can not get stuck to it.Then turn down or off lights and watch the FLEAS jump to the light ,bounce back Stuck on tape.

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  5. I thought my cat was trying to cough up a hairball, but it turned out she had asthma. At the time I had no idea that was even possible. I have since realized if she coughs from asthma her body is in a different position than if she’s trying to cough up a hairball. I treat her asthma and no more coughing!

  6. Pingback: Cat Gagging — Why Does It Occur? – Cute funny cat kitten pictures videos

  7. In my experience, cats/kittens have a thing about 3-3:30am where they feel the need to get the rips…run around, jump on stuff, talk loudly, and act like it’s daytime and everyone is up. I don’t know why that happens but it does.

    We started with one indoor-only fixed rescued male that was fixed. He would go nuts like that every night. Once we added a kitten, he calmed down somewhat and would not be as loud at night, since he had the kitten to play with at that time…but he didn’t stop doing it.

    Now we have seven of them, all rescues, and they are all up around 3-3:30am every single night like clockwork.

  8. I rescued a black cat from the wild. I fed him in the wild every day for a year and he would faithfully wait for me each day. Then i decided to bring him home. I had him looked at by a vet and had the necessary op to stop more kittens! He does seem to whine about 3.oo am but i guess that was his hunting time. He has put on a lot of weight which he needed but now trying for him to lose a little as he has got the hang of how to ask for more. Lovely coat and beautiful green eyes. The vet said that by taking him in i have increased his life by 60% due to dogs and traffic. He is a house cat now but hope to train him on a lead for future walks. He does sometimes get a cough but think it is due to his time living outside. He has a very good nature and he puts himself to bed whenever needs be. He has his own room with a window next to his bed where he watches the world go by although has the run of the house.

    Hope this helps with black cat awareness month of October. Kind regards

    Linda

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