Cat Cough

cat cough - pictures of cats

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photo by renielet

Introduction and list of causes

The thing about a cat cough for a cat keeper who is not qualified medically is the question as to whether they can something themselves or if there an underlying problem that needs veterinarian diagnosis and treatment? I guess we know from our own experiences that we cough to get rid of an irritant in the throat or more accurately the airway or respiratory system (the respiratory system, in fact, includes mouth, nose, nasal passages, throat, voice box, trachea and the airways of the lungs).

When I get a cough it is usually (a) because “something has gone down the wrong way”, meaning that a small piece of food has gone into my airway rather than down into my stomach or (b) I have had a cold and sore throat. At the end of the cold, I cough. We know when we are coughing. It may be obvious that our cat is coughing but it may not, in fact, be that obvious. Other sounds are sometimes similar such as wheezing, gagging, labored breathing and retching. This is one more obstacle to self diagnosis.

  There are a wide range of reasons for cat coughing:

      1. tight collar
      2. substances inhaled that irritate the airway – aerosol, cigarette smoke, house dust, perfumes.
      3. foreign objects e.g. grass, food particle (a) above
      4. respiratory infections
      5. growth in the air passage
      6. allergic reaction
      7. herpes virus (spastic cough)
      8. foreign object in the voice box
      9. bronchitis – deep
      10. laryngitis
      11. feline asthma
      12. worms (heart worms, lung worms, round worms and fungus diseases)
      13. nasal disorder (nasal cavity discharges draining into the airways)
      14. heart problems
      15. mass on chest

As can readily be seen the vast majority of these underlying causes require veterinarian treatment (I have marked these in red). In other words coughs that go on longer than would be the case normally should be referred to the vet, except I would have thought environmental factors referred to as items 1 and 2 above. These would cause long term coughing and are treatable by a layperson.

Drs Foster and Smith say that if a cat cough has lasted for more than 5 days it is time to see a veterinarian.

And Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook – Drs Carlson and Giffin recommend that only minor coughs of a short duration should be treated at home. Some causes can quite quickly be “ticked” off such as cigarette smoke in the room. If a cat is an indoor cat and the cat keeper smokes this could, it seems, be a cause. It will certainly be unhealthy generally. Sometimes it will be apparent that a large object is stuck in the throat causing a cough. Obviously it may be possible to remove this if it is visible.

Type of cat cough related to cause

  • Hacking honking cough Associated with a disease of the trachea or large bronchi. The trachea is the main tube from the voice box to the lungs. The large bronchi are the two main branches from trachea that lead to each lung.
  • Half hearted coughing Could be associated with fluid on the lungs.
  • Moist cough Lung infection or fluid on the lungs
  • Cough with sneezing and watery red eyes Could be feline viral respiratory disease complex
  • Deep convulsive type cough with neck extended plus phlegm Associated with chronic bronchitis
  • Sudden coughing plus wheezing and difficulty breathing Suggests feline asthma
  • Sporadic coughing plus weight loss, listlessness and poor appetite Associated with worms – heartworms, lungworms and fungus diseases
  • Spasms of coughing after exercise Possible acute bronchitis Coughing brings on more coughing.

Home Treatments – cat cough?

The Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook – Drs Carlson and Giffin says thatcough medication for children can be used to treat cats, exceptfor medicine containing:

  • Tylenol
  • Codeine
  • Narcotics (unspecified)

Cough medicine, however, simply treats the symptoms and not the cause and I am not sure how easy it would be to administer cough medicine to a cat. I know it would be all but impossible to give it to mine and if I succeeded the discomfort to my cat in swallowing it may cancel out the short term benefits. Plus there is the added difficulty in selecting one that is safe. In short, we need the input of a vet to advise on an appropriate cough suppressant medication.


Based on my own experience and research my opinion is that all but the most obvious of causes should be treated by a veterinarian. Most of the simple causes of a cat cough will resolve themselves. It is only the obvious causes such as food particles (self resolve), large particles (help perhaps), environmental issues (cleaner environment or looser collar) that we can deal with.

Update: Round worms can be a cause when asthma looks like the cause. Regular treatment for round worms will probably be required. One breeder gives six-monthly de-worming treatments of Pyrantel. Round worms are hard to diagnose and cause coughing that look like wheezing.

Photo heading the page: This is a picture of cat coughing published under a creative commons license = Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License. Sources:

  1. – Drs Foster and Smith
  2. The Veterinarian’s Guide to Your Cats Symptoms – Drs Garvey, Hohenhaus, Houpt, Pinckney, Wallace and Elizabeth Randolph
  3. Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook – Drs Carlson and Giffin
  4. Wikepedia for definitions


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