Why Is My Cat Coughing?

Why Is My Cat Coughing?

When a cat coughs, it doesn’t seem natural or healthy and can scare the cat owner. What makes a cat cough and what can we do about it?

Bridget is a long-time cat owner, cat sitter, and cat lover with years of feline research and hands-on experience.

There are several causes of coughing in cats.

Causes of coughing in cats

There are a number of reasons why your cat may be coughing.

If the cough starts suddenly, is severe, is combined with other symptoms (such as weight loss), and is not typical of your cat, the best option is to see a vet immediately.

Common Causes of Coughing in Cats

  • Infection or virus (these may include upper respiratory tract infections, feline viral rhinotracheitis, or the bacteria Bordetella)
  • Hairballs (especially in long-haired cats)
  • feline asthma
  • Allergies or inhaled foreign materials such as grass, pollen, or dust. This could also include inhaling cleaning products, so be careful when using chemicals around the house.
  • Lung/bronchial disease
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer (breast tumors)
  • Parasites such as lungworm, collected from infected prey or water

Common parasites in cats

Capillaria aerophila and Aelurostrongylus abstrusus are two of the most common parasites in cats. These parasites cause lungworms, which leads to coughing and shortness of breath.

It’s never fun when your cat isn’t feeling well.   Photo by Ludemeula Fernandes on Unsplash

Diagnosis of a cat with a cough

If the cough is not clearly related to inhaling a substance or an upper respiratory infection (such as a runny nose or watery eyes), more investigation is needed.

A vet can start with:

  • Blood tests (including heartworm tests)
  • Laboratory cultures of a lower respiratory tract lavage sample
  • endoscopic examination
  • Bone scan
  • ultrasound evaluation
  • Bronchoscopy, where a flexible camera (a bronchoscope) is passed through the mouth and into the airways of the lungs.

Your cat may require sedation for some of these tests, but they will help find the cause of your furry friend’s coughing.

age matters

  • Young or very old cats are more likely to develop a cough due to infection with bacteria or viruses.
  • Young and middle-aged cats often develop wheezing and coughing due to asthma.
If you are concerned, take your cat to the vet immediately.

What is a wash sample?

If the vet says your cat needs a “lavage sample,” they are referring to a bronchoalveolar lavage (BL). A BL is when a bronchoscope is passed through the mouth into the lungs, and fluid is injected into the lungs and collected (suctioned) for sampling. This can also be done through a urinary catheter in the endotracheal tube.

How a vet might address your cat’s cough

The approach the vet takes will depend on the diagnosis.

  • If the tests come back positive for parasites, your cat will be treated for the particular worm.
  • For heartworm, medications called bronchodilators help the cat breathe, and medications may be given to kill the worm.
  • Lungworm is treated with topical treatments such as Revolution, as well as oral deworming medications and supportive immunotherapy.
  • Antibiotics will be given for infections.
  • Anti-inflammatories or antihistamines are given for allergies.
  • Treatment of cancer, tumors, cysts, and heart disease will depend on the owner’s decision-making and the cat’s health.
If you know your cat well, you can detect signs that she may be experiencing some form of discomfort.

What is Regular and Irregular?

Know your cat!

  • If she’s not one to cough up a hairball once in a while and starts coughing like crazy, make sure she gets immediate medical attention.
  • If you’re a long-haired cat experiencing frequent bouts of hairballs, there are many over-the-counter or prescription options to help soothe your tummy.
  • Most causes of cat cough can be fixed or at least reduced with proper diagnosis and care!


Bridget F. (Author) from the US on September 09, 2018:

FlourishAnyway, thank you very much!! Always so friendly when you walk by 🙂

bloom anyway from the US on September 09, 2018:

What an excellent well informed article. Magnificent.

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