Cat coughs need veterinary diagnosis to find the cause. However, minor coughs of a short duration can be treated at home with veterinary supervision. If you want to use a cough suppressant you have to be extremely careful. Cough suppressants used for children can treat mild coughs but medications containing Tylenol, codeine, and other narcotics are toxic to domestic cats. You must never use them. You can see that even treating a mild cough of short duration is problematic for the lay person.
IMPORTANT: home treatments for a cat cough must be carried out in consultation with your veterinarian. Sorry to harp on but the obvious first requirement for home treatments is that they must be 100% safe.
A well-respected book1 that I have advises that Plain Robitussin is a safe and effective cough mixture for cats. An alternative is Robitussin-DM which contains the cough suppressant dextromethorphan. This is the only cough suppressant which is safe for cats. However, it is vital that you give the correct dosage. These medications are not approved for use in cats and should only be used in consultation with your veterinarian.
The problem is that coughing is a symptom and a reflex initiated by an irritant in the bronchial tubes. There are a number of possible causes and you need to address these causes if you are going to provide a home treatment. Therefore you need a proper diagnosis and in turn you will normally need a veterinarian to provide it. This normally precludes home treatments for a cat cough.
A cat cough can be caused by a respiratory infection, inhaled smoke and chemicals, foreign objects such as grass dust or food particles, pressure from a tight collar, growths in the bronchial tubes, an allergic reaction, worms, heart problems, asthma, mass on chest and so on. It’s complicated.
Coughs are also self-perpetuating. Coughing irritates the bronchial tubes and dries out the mucus lining. This lowers resistance to infection. This leads to further coughing.
A veterinarian will do a chest x-ray and transtracheal washings. The recovered cells are examined with a microscope to obtain a diagnosis. An excellent method of diagnosing bronchial tube disease is to use a fibre-optic instrument which is passed into the trachea with the cat under anaesthesia.
Coughing can be accompanied by loss of appetite and if coughing is accompanied by a fever and discharge from the eyes and nose the cat must be treated by a veterinarian.
If the coughing is caused by air pollutants such as cigarette smoke or house dust an air purifier may assist in preventing the cough. Heart, lung, throat or nose disorders need to be treated by a veterinarian.
Personal Thoughts on Home Treatment for Cat Cough
In short, this is too complicated and/or tricky a symptom, in all honesty, for home treatment. Unless, as mentioned, the cough is mild and short lived when it may be possible to treat the cough with the cough mixture mentioned above under your veterinarian’s supervision. However, I have no idea how you deliver the medicine! You probably inject it into the mouth.
It is just too risky to try and do it yourself unless you are well versed, skilled, confident and have practical experience (there are unqualified cat owners like this and they are very good but few and far between). However, even then, I personally would not recommend it. Sorry if that sounds too negative for you. I know people visit the Internet to find quick and complete answers but sometimes this objective is simply impractical.
I welcome the views of experienced cat caretakers who have tales to tell about their home treatments for a cat cough.
Ref 1 – Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook.