A closer look: Coughing in Cats
Coughing may be mild and temporary, having benign causes such as throat irritation. Coughing that persists or is accompanied by other symptoms of illness warrants veterinary attention.
Coughing symptoms can vary in severity and duration. Occasional, brief coughing by an otherwise healthy cat is not cause for concern, but persistent coughing or coughing along with other signs of illness such as lethargy, lack of appetite, eye and nasal discharge, or difficulty breathing indicates a more severe problem.
Coughing may be characterized as dry (non-productive) or wet (productive). Non-productive coughing is more likely to indicate asthma, foreign body irritation, or cancer. Productive coughing is more often associated with infections, due to phlegm.
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Coughing may be caused by many conditions that cause irritation, inflammation, or obstruction of the respiratory tract.
Respiratory infections can cause bronchitis, and pneumonia–symptoms of which may include coughing.
Coughing may also be caused by non-infectious conditions.
Disorders of the chest cavity may be the result of traumatic injury or heart disease. Fluid or air between the lungs and the chest wall restricts breathing and may cause coughing.
Heart disease and congestive heart failure may cause coughing, though it is a less common symptom of heart failure in cats compared to dogs.
All mammals cough sometimes and a minor cough that resolves quickly and does not recur frequently is not a cause for concern. More frequent or severe coughing warrants veterinary attention.
Coughing along with symptoms of respiratory distress such as difficulty breathing, cyanosis (blue gums), collapse, or coughing blood (hemoptysis) indicates a serious condition and warrant emergency veterinary care.
Testing and diagnosis
A veterinarian diagnoses the cause of coughing using:
- Physical examination
- Blood analysis
- Diagnostic imaging; X-ray or ultrasound
- Laboratory culture of wash samples from respiratory tract
Treatments vary depending on the cause and associated symptoms. Treatments may include:
Specific medication including:
Symptomatic medications have limited indications for use for most conditions associated with coughing in cats, and are generally used only short-term, if at all, such as decongestants and expectorants.
Note: always consult a veterinarian before giving medications to pets, even if they are intended for use in animals.
Decontamination: removal of irritants from the living environment (e.g. in the case of allergies or asthma)
Surgery: in the cause of inhaled foreign bodies, traumatic injury, or cancer
Draining fluid from the chest cavity, in the case of disorder of the pleural cavity, may provide temporary relief. Fluid is expected to return if the underlying condition is not addressed.
Choking may be mistaken for coughing. Choking can be differentiated by difficulty inhaling. Coughing cats can typically still breathe inward.
Asthma does not usually cause coughing in cats. Rapid, open-mouthed breathing is typical of an asthma attack. Difficulty breathing is an emergency.
Coughing may be observed with many other symptoms, depending on the underlying cause.