Coughing is a natural reflex to clear material in the respiratory tract. Although cats do cough, they don’t do it nearly as often as other animals like dogs or humans.
A little bit of cat coughing from time to time is usually nothing to worry about in a healthy cat. When there’s a persistent cough, it could mean there’s a serious health issue at play. The sooner you can get a diagnosis the better.
Read on for the common reasons why your cat might be coughing and the treatments available to help them recover.
Common Causes of Coughs in Cats
There’s a long list of potential causes for a cat’s cough. Issues can range from introducing a new type of cat litter that causes an irritant to a serious respiratory infection. Long-term exposure to cigarette smoke could also cause a persistent cough.
Possible causes of coughs in cats include:
- A bacterial or viral respiratory infection perhaps due to a fungus or parasite
- Asthma or cat flu
- Pleural effusion causing the abnormal buildup of fluid around a cat’s lungs
- An inhaled foreign object like food or bits of grass
- A physical, chemical, or thermal injury to the respiratory tract
Heart disease can cause coughing in humans and dogs but tends not to do so in cats. With cats, there will nearly always be some kind of respiratory condition at play.
Can Cats Get Kennel Cough From Dogs?
In dogs, bacterial and viral infections, sometimes simultaneously, can lead to kennel cough. Cats are susceptible to some of these infections but not others.
To stop the chance of this condition spreading, you should keep any pet that is sneezing, coughing and has discharge from the nose or eyes away from other pets. You should also get them examined by a vet.
Wet Cough vs. Dry Cough in Cats
Your vet will make a diagnosis of the cat coughing by:
- Looking at your pet’s health history
- Conducting a physical examination
- Carrying out diagnostic tests
Whether your cat has a wet or dry cough can offer up clues as to what might be the underlying cause.
We use the term “wet cough” to describe a cough that brings up phlegm. That’s the thick mucus often produced within the respiratory tract when there’s an infection. An increase in the production of phlegm helps the body get rid of bacteria, viruses, disease-fighting cells, and other materials from the lungs.
Dry coughs tend not to produce a lot of phlegm. In cats, dry coughs tend to have an association with conditions such as asthma, cancer, and inhaled foreign bodies.
Making the distinction between these 2 types of cough can be helpful when trying to make an accurate diagnosis. Importantly, a cat might be coughing and producing phlegm – but then swallowing it, making it difficult to know if there is phlegm or not!
The Sound of a Cough
Coughing often happens in combination with other symptoms. Together they can create a different range of sounds. When cat coughing happens alongside sneezing there may often be an association with an upper respiratory infection in cats.
An infection of the nasal passages causes sneezing with some discharge flowing back into the throat to produce a cough.
Wheezing is one of asthma’s classic symptoms. You’ll often see it in combination with coughing and rapid or open-mouthed breathing.
When a cat coughs up a hairball, it’s likely that you’re not really dealing with a cough at all. Although it may sound like your cat is coughing, your cat is actually retching. That’s because the hairball is coming out of the digestive tract and its respiratory counterpart.
Should I Worry if My Cat Coughs up Blood?
When a cat coughs up blood you should treat it as a potential emergency and get in touch with a vet straight away. Any of the following could lead to a cat coughing up blood:
- Trauma and certain cancers
- Serious infections
- Contact with poisons that prevent normal blood clotting
The Treatment for Cat Coughs
How your cat gets treated is going to depend greatly on the underlying cause. Coughs caused by irritants will disappear once the irritant gets removed from the cat’s environment.
If spotted early enough, fungal, bacterial, and parasitic infections may resolve once a cat gets the right medication. The prescription of antiviral medicines tends to be less common but can be useful.
To treat feline asthma, you’ll potentially need to get rid of its triggers. You may also need to administer medications that dilate the airways and mitigate the risk of inflammation and swelling.
In cases of pleural effusion, your vet will use a needle and syringe to get rid of fluid that’s built up around a cat’s lungs. Your cat may need extra treatment to address the fluid’s source and stop it from building up again.
Surgery or a bronchoscopy may be necessary to remove any inhaled objects. Your vet may also prescribe a course of antibiotics to treat or prevent any secondary infections.
Cancer that is harming the respiratory tract will typically get treated with surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or palliative care.
Any injuries that are causing a cough will either get better with medical management or surgery.
Heartworm prevention is essential for cats. That’s because when a cat gets infected with heartworms, treatment options tend to have limitations.
Some coughing cats will benefit from supportive care such as fluid and oxygen therapy. Home treatments like wiping away nasal discharge or loosening congestion by putting your cat in a steamy bathroom can be helpful too.
Tips for Preventing Coughs in Cats
You can reduce the chance that your cat will get some of the problems that can cause coughs by:
- Getting them tested for internal parasites
- Avoiding the use of aerosol cleaners, perfumes, and deodorizers
- Choosing cat litter that doesn’t make dust or have added scent.
- Keeping your pet active so they maintain a healthy weight
- Reducing the amount of stress in your cat’s life
- Sticking to routines and preventing your cat from getting bored
- Using a humidifier when the air is particularly dry
- Not exposing your cat to cigarette smoke
- Giving your cat a preventative heartworm medication
When to Seek the Advice of a Vet
Some cats will cough occasionally. Provided your cat is in good health and the cough does not cause the production of phlegm, you can relax. When a cough persists for several days or if it is severe and productive you should get in touch with a vet.
We have a team of experts available to offer advice if you have any concerns about the health of your cat, especially if they have a cough. Put your mind at ease and book a timeslot today.