My Cat is Coughing

When you bring your kitty in for a check-up you’ll notice one of the first things we ask is “have you noticed your cat coughing at all?” Many people answer the question with “Hmmm I’m not sure – what does a cat cough sound like?”

A cat that is coughing may sound like he or she is gagging, or has something stuck in the throat. It’s easy to confuse sneezing with coughing, but unlike sneezing, where the mouth stays shut, a cat who is coughing will have his or her mouth open.

Some of the most common conditions that cause cats to cough:

  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Foreign bodies in the respiratory tract
  • Parasites (roundworms, hookworms, heart worms)
  • Respiratory infection
  • Bronchitis

So how can you tell if your cat is passing a hairball or if the cough is caused by something more serious? The good news is, if your cat’s coughing fit is from a hairball, the hairball should eventually come up! The bad news is, you may wake up in the morning and step on it barefooted on the way to the kitchen. (Ew!) The whole process of passing a hairball may take several minutes, and it usually produces a tube-shaped, wet, hairy clump.

If the coughing fits are not producing a hairball it’s important to bring your cat in to see one of our veterinarians. You should be especially concerned, and bring your cat in immediately if the cough is accompanied by:

  • Discharge from the mouth, nose or eyes
  • Labored breathing or wheezing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy/weakness
  • If each coughing spell is lasting more than a few minutes

Some questions to think about before your appointment:

  • How often is your cat coughing?
  • Do you notice a pattern with the coughing?
  • Is the cough productive (meaning fluids or mucous is expelled from the airway) or non-productive (a dry cough where no material is coming up)?

Why Don’t We Know When Our Kitties are Hurting?

Both in human and veterinary medicine, we’ve come a long way in our understanding of pain, and pain management. We now know that besides just plain hurting, chronic pain can suppress the immune system making animals more susceptible to viruses and infections.

Cats provide a particular challenge in the area of identifying and diagnosing chronic pain. A study at Texas A&M found that 90 percent of cats who presented for other issues showed x-ray evidence of painful arthritis, even though they showed know signs to their owners.

So why don’t we know when our kitties are hurting? Well, there are a couple of reasons.

First, cats instinctively mask, or hide, outward signs of pain or illness. In the wild, animals who appear vulnerable are in danger of becoming someone’s dinner. Cats still have that protective instinct.

Second, cats are motivated to behave how they normally behave. Cats prefer routines and stick to their habits as much as they possibly can. This makes it easy for cat owners to miss pain, or other health problems, in the early stages.

As cat owners it’s important to understand that signs of chronic pain in cats are almost exclusively behavioral. Watch for changes in behavior: A cat may stop jumping to her favorite high perch. Changes in appearance can mean a cat isn’t grooming properly because it hurts. Changes in litter box habits could indicate difficulty getting in and out of the box, or up and down stairs.

Personality changes can be another sign. Keep your eye out for the friendly cat who is now aloof or the aloof cat who is suddenly clingy.

Here are some ways to help a cat in chronic pain:

Make an appointment with your veterinarian! No animal needs to suffer with chronic pain. Once it is identified, we can help to manage pain with medications and/or dietary supplements.

Weight reduction is a priority for any overweight cat in chronic pain. Excess weight puts pressure on already painful joints. We also now know that fat secretes inflammatory hormones which contribute to the pain. Cats with chronic arthritis pain are not equipped to be outside on their own. They can easily injure themselves or get into fights that they can not win.

Give your kitty a nice warm bed to snuggle into. You may want to look into a pet-safe heated bed. Re-arrange the furniture a little so kitty has “stepping stones” to get to her favorite perches. Place a litter box on every level of the house.

Never give your cat over-the-counter pain medications. Aspirin, Ibuprofen, and Acetaminophen can all be deadly to cats.

Watch your cat closely for any changes in behavior, weight, grooming, eating or drinking habits. These are our best clues to catch health problems in their early stages. Also, try to get your kitties in to see us at Nob Hill Cat Clinic at least once a year, bi-annually for senior cats

Food Allergies in Cats

Food allergies can be tricky both to diagnose and to treat. There are a lot of assumptions out there about food allergies so here’s what is important to know:

  • Corn and other grains are not necessarily the culprits. Pets are often allergic to meat proteins.
  • Food allergies may appear as GI symptoms, itchiness or chronic ear infections. Allergic pets may chew on their feet and be itchy in their ears, on their belly, and sometimes around the anus. Itchiness on the rump is usually indicative of fleas or anal glands that need to be expressed.
  • Your cat can develop allergies to a diet that they’ve been on for a long time. It takes exposure to an ingredient in order to develop an allergy.
  • Blood testing for food allergies is not very accurate. The best way to figure out a food allergy is to put your cat on a strict food trial. This means 2-3 months of eating ONLY a prescription hypoallergenic diet. Talk with one of our doctors before selecting a food. Many over-the-counter hypoallergenic diets may not work.
  • Even if your cat’s allergies are seasonal, food allergies could still be contributing to the problem. Sometimes inhalant allergies and food allergies together can cause the itchiness to be worse during certain seasons.

Here at Nob Hill Cat Clinic we see many allergic cats and we know how frustrating chronic allergy problems can be. Please call us if you have any concerns or if you’d like more information.