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)?