A cat with a cough can be quite common and is not always a cause for concern. However, as pet parents, you should know the common causes of cat coughs to know when to take your cat to the vet.
A cat's cough can merely be your cat regurgitating a hairball or allergies, but it might also indicate a more serious issue or infection. What are the most common reasons for a coughing cat, other possible symptoms, and the course of action to help alleviate your cat's cough?
Do Cats Cough?
Cats can cough like we do but are less frequent. While coughing in cats on rare occasions (once every few months) could be normal, most cats don't cough unless it's something wrong.
Types of Cough
Just like humans, cats have two types of cough: dry cough and wet cough. Wet coughing in cats will secrete mucus or thick gooey material.
Reasons Why Your May Cat Cough
The most common and harmless reason that your cat may be coughing is the presence of a hairball. This cough is, in fact, more of a gag since the hairball is coming from the digestive tract and not the respiratory tract. Since cats lick themselves to clean, they are prone to swallowing hair which they then regurgitate. This is quite common and is nothing to be concerned about.
If there is no sign of a hairball at any point in your cat's coughs, then there may be something more to be concerned about.
Like people, cats can be prone to allergies, and coughing in cats may be a symptom of sensitivity in your cat. Common triggers include smoking, cleaning chemicals and aerosols, pollen, dust, and fungal spores. Cats can also be allergic to cat litter dust, so allergies may be to blame if your cat's cough has coincided with a switch in cat litter.
The number one way to handle cat allergies is to limit exposure to possible triggers. You can take your cat to the vet for allergy diagnostic tests if you are struggling to find the culprit, but in general, keeping a clean house and using all-natural cleaners can greatly reduce cat allergies. If your cat is allergic to pollen, keep it inside for the duration of the plant's flowering.
A more serious reason for your cat's cough is feline asthma (chronic bronchitis). This can be a life-threatening condition, so if you suspect that your cat has asthma take it to a vet as soon as you can. Most cats will breathe with open mouths and often have a bluish or gray tongue or gums.
Additional symptoms include a strained cough, where your cat sits crouched and strains its neck upwards. This is a sign your cat's coughing is strained and it is struggling to get air. The cough may also be more infrequent, maybe once or twice a week, but also regular.
Your cat should see a vet if you suspect feline asthma. There are many treatments available to aid your cat's breathing, and two common treatments are corticosteroids for inflammation and bronchodilators to expand airways.
These treatments come in oral, injected, and inhaled methods. Inhaled treatments are preferred since they bypass the metabolic system and thus prevent digestive upset and other negative side effects. This also ensures that your cat receives the full medication directly to its lungs.
A cat may develop a cough after contracting a bacterial or viral respiratory infection in its respiratory system. It is likely an upper respiratory infection if the cough is a dry, unproductive cough with no mucus or discharge. If the cough is a productive, wet cough with mucus or nasal discharge, it is likely an infection.
The cat coughing may be accompanied by a runny nose, wheezing, sneezing, and increased lethargy.
If you suspect a respiratory infection, you should see a vet, particularly if the cough is persistent or recurring. Antibiotics can be prescribed for respiratory infections as well as cough suppressants occasionally.
The symptoms of parasitic infection can look very similar to those of a respiratory infection, so you will need to take your cat to the vet to figure out which it is and what the proper course of treatment is.
Parasitic drugs and treatments are available, and your vet will be able to help you decide on the best course of action given the specific parasite infection or disease.
Heartworm disease is an unfortunately difficult condition to remedy once it has set in. Additional symptoms of heartworm include intermittent vomiting (blood and food), diarrhea, difficulty breathing, asthma-like attacks, gagging, lethargy, and weight loss.
The best way to treat heartworm disease in cats is to take proactive preventative measures before your cat gets it. Your cat should be on a schedule to receive regular preventive heartworm care. Talk with your vet if you are unsure about your cat's preventative medicine schedule.
Disease in the Respiratory Tract
Heart disease leads to coughing in humans and dogs, but this is not the case in cats. If a disease has set in on the respiratory tract, it may lead to a cat cough and other symptoms like a runny nose, watery eyes, wheezing, a change in appetite, or digestive issues. Early signs can be very hard to spot, a lack of energy, a change in appetite, listlessness, or weight loss.
It is important that you know how your cat behaves when it is healthy to catch early signs of sickness as soon as possible. If your cat contracts a respiratory disease, you will need to take it to the vet immediately to find out the cause and the course of treatment.
Another of the more serious causes of a cat coughing would be the presence of cancer in your cat's lungs. Symptoms can look like any other respiratory tract infection or disease but may also include coughing up blood, increased pain, skin rashes, ulcers, and lameness. You should take your cat to the vet immediately.
Treatments include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and surgery, but the prognosis, even with treatment, isn't ideal. The expected survival time is only about 12 months. Left untreated or in advanced cases, your cat may only have two months or less.
Infectious bronchitis is inflammation in the airways of the lungs caused by infection: bacteria or parasites.
Bacteria such as Mycoplasma spp. or Bordetella bronchiseptica. These bacteria are rarely alone and often upper airway. Coughing is usually accompanied by fever, decreased appetite, lethargy, and sneezing with nasal mucus.
Parasites are known as lungworms (Aelurostrongylus abstrusus or Eucoleus aerophilus). This parasite will cause inflammation in the air passages and lead to coughing in cats. They are often seen in a younger cat that lives outdoors.
Pneumonia comes on quickly and makes your cat feel very sick. Signs of pneumonia include fever, lack of appetite, lack of energy, and struggle to breathe.
Catching Illness Early
Sometimes the difference between your cat's survival or not is how early you can catch the disease or condition. This can be challenging since many illnesses can be asymptomatic or very mild in the early stages.
To catch signs of possible issues early, you must know how your cat looks, acts, and eats when it is normal and healthy.
A few common areas to always be monitoring include—
Eating and Drinking
If you notice changes in your cat's eating or drinking habits, you should at least note them. If they seem to be losing weight or appetite, you may want to consider taking them in to be examined.
Another area to note changes in is your cat's overall energy levels. Is it more lethargic? Does your cat sleep more and play less than normal?
How your cat behaves can also indicate early on that something is off. A supposed change in personality can indicate that your cat is in pain, partially if they seem more aggressive.
Another consideration is any external factors that could contribute to illness. Have you traveled recently? Did your cat recently eat something questionable? Has your cat been in contact with any other animals?
You should always be aware of the options available to you when it comes to preventative care for your cat. Stay on top of medications and vet checkups to ensure your pet doesn't get something that could have been prevented.
Symptoms of Illness
Lastly, take note of any symptoms of illness as listed above. In addition to coughing, there may be symptoms of sneezing, runny nose, discharge from the eyes, and weight loss.