Causes and Treatment for Coughing in Cats
Should you be worried if your cat is coughing? Continue reading to learn more about coughing in cats, including common causes, tests, and treatment options.
This article was written by a FirstVet vet
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What should I do if my cat is coughing?
Coughing in cats isn’t always as obvious as coughing in people or dogs. In cats, they often crouch low to the ground and extend their neck before coughing. This can look like vomiting or dry heaving. If your cat is having any changes in breathing rate, effort, energy level, or is coughing, be sure to get a few videos of the events to show us or your regular vet. Cats are masters at hiding illnesses and rarely cough when at the clinic during the exam, so your detailed description and videos will really help your vet start to determine the possible causes.
You are the expert on your cat! Your vet will ask you many questions. Please consider these questions before your consult or appointment to help give your vet as much information as possible. Be sure to watch your cat at home closely and look for any excessive abdominal movements when coughing or breathing.
- Is your cat breathing harder or faster than usual when resting or sleeping?
- Is there any discharge from the nose?
- Any sneezing?
- Does this seem to occur seasonally?
- How long has this been going on?
- Any other pets in the household?
- Any other pets showing similar symptoms?
- Is your cat indoor or outdoor or both?
- Are there any triggers that seem to make your cat cough such as using essential oils, burning a fire, or when the cat is in the litter box?
Causes of Coughing in Cats
- Asthma - Siamese and Oriental cats are predisposed
- Mycobacterial infection
- Fungal infection
- Foreign body inhalation, such as a piece of litter or dirt
- Laryngeal paralysis
- Aspiration pneumonia, especially if your cat is also vomiting
- Heartworms - yes, cats can get heartworms too!
- Neoplasia/cancer such as lymphoma, carcinomas
- Cranial mediastinal mass - this is a mass in the chest in front of the heart
- Effusion in the chest - this can be fluid from heart failure, blood from trauma, fluid buildup from cancer, etc.
- Heart failure - however, this rarely causes coughing in cats
- Airway irritants like smoke, scented candles, dust, dusty litter, covered litter box
- Infectious (viruses and bacteria) - the most common cause of cough in young cats/kittens. This includes feline herpes virus, calicivirus, Bordetella bronchiceptica (yes, cats can get Bordetella too, just like dogs and rabbits). Be sure to read our article on upper respiratory infections in cats.
What tests are needed to determine the cause of my cat’s coughing?
Your description, the videos you provide, and the physical exam will help your vet determine which tests may be needed to identify the cause of the coughing.
Some tests that may be needed include:
- Blood work to assess red and white blood cells and serum chemistry panel-these tests can give clues about the possible causes, but rarely lead to a final diagnosis. It’s a great place to start, however.
- Radiographs/x-rays - This will allow your vet to look at the lungs, heart shape and size, trachea, and parts of the upper airway, screen for cancer and look for abnormal fluid in the lungs or chest cavity. Cats that are coughing or having difficulty breathing may benefit from injectable sedation to reduce stress during this test.
- Bronchoalveolar lavage or BAL - This test involves instilling sterile fluid into the airway and then removing it to obtain samples to look for bacteria, fungal infections, cancerous cells, etc. The fluid is often submitted to the lab for further testing after initial evaluation at the clinic.
- Infectious disease testing to screen for Herpes, Calicivirus, Bordetella, Mycoplasma, etc.
- Heartworm antigen and antibody testing
- Fecal test to look for lungworms such as Aelurostrongylus abstrusus and Eucoleus aerophilus
Treatment for Coughing in Cats
Once the cause of the coughing has been determined, treatment can begin. Treatments can range from deworming medications, antibiotics, steroids, antivirals, inhalers, antifungals, etc.
IF YOUR CAT IS OPEN MOUTH BREATHING, IS BREATHING RAPIDLY, HAS PALE OR ABNORMAL COLORED GUMS, GO TO THE EMERGENCY CLINIC OR YOUR VET IMMEDIATELY. BE SURE TO CALL AND LET THEM KNOW YOU ARE COMING SO THEY CAN HAVE EMERGENCY SUPPLIES AND OXYGEN READY.
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