My cat has a cough. Symptoms, causes and treatment

Coughing is a protective reflex designed to remove foreign particles, mucus , irritants, and microbes from the respiratory tract. It is not a disease in itself, but it can be a sign of an underlying problem, such as a disease of the respiratory or cardiovascular system

Coughing in cats is mainly induced by irritation or inflammation in the bronchial tubes or trachea and can be associated with a variety of causes ranging from mild to severe.

This automatic and involuntary behavior is one of the most powerful reflexes in the body and is essential to keep the pharynx and airways free of accumulated secretions and foreign material. This is, therefore, a normal response to any airway invasion, obstruction, or abnormality.

The cough can be acute (sudden onset), lasting one to two weeks, or a chronic cough , lasting more than two weeks.

There are several types of cough:

  • Severe, dry cough similar to that of a smoker.
  • Soft and almost imperceptible cough.
  • Moist cough, producing mucus.
  • Cough accompanied by sneezing.
  • Cough accompanied by strange noises similar to small beeps.

Symptoms of coughing in cats

Symptoms are common and may include:

  • Difficulty breathing (dyspnea).
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Wheezing
  • Intolerance or reluctance to exercise.


Causes of cough in felines

There are a number of causes of a cough in cats that can be parasites, infection, inflammation, and other causes .


  • Heartworm:worm infection of the pulmonary arteries, heart, and lungs.
  • Lungworm:worm infection of the lungs that causes inflammation.
  • Ascariasis –migration of roundworms from the bloodstream to the lungs.
  • Ixodes holocyclus: theseare ticks that inject a neurotoxin into the cat while feeding.

Infectious or inflammation:

  • Feline flu –An upper respiratory infection caused by various viruses, including feline herpesvirus, calicivirus, and feline reovirus.
  • Fungal infection– Blastomycosis .
  • Feline Bordetella:Bacterial cough caused by Bordetella bronchiseptica, it is the same bacteria that causes kennel cough  in dogs
  • Pneumonia:infection or inflammation of the lungs that can be bacterial, viral, fungal, parasitic, or aspiration.
  • Pneumonic plague –Bacterial infection caused by Yersinia pestis.
  • Tuberculosis:a rare bacterial infection that is of great importance because it is transmissible to people.

Other causes of cough:

  • Asthma and bronchitis: hardening of the airways can trigger asthma, such as cigarette smoke, perfumes, household fires, aerosols, dust, etc …
  • Allergies: airborne allergies such as dust, mold, smoke, pollen, dust mites.
  • Pleural effusion: accumulation of fluid in the pleural cavity; the liquid can be blood, chyle, transudate.
  • Pulmonary edema: fluid in the lungs.
  • Hairballs: accumulation of hair in the stomach and intestine.
  • Heart disease: This is a series of disorders related to the heart.
  • Lungtumors : benign or cancerous tumors of the lungs. It may have originated in the lungs or spread (metastasized) from another location, metastatic lung tumors are common in cats as the lungs receive blood flow from the rest of the body.
  • Congestive heart failure: A life-threatening disorder that occurs when the heart does not pump blood as efficiently as possible. This causes fluid to back up into the lungs and abdomen, while other organs do not receive enough blood to function properly.
  • Nasopharyngeal polyps: benign growths that arise from the mucous membranes of the nose.
  • Pulmonary embolism –A blockage in the lungs most commonly caused by a blood clot, but other blockages can include gas, heartworm, fat cell, or tumor.
  • Inhalation of foreign bodies, chemicals or irritants: such as smoke or bleach.
  • GERD (acid reflux)– A condition in which gastric juices flow backward from the stomach into the esophagus, causing pain and inflammation. Over time, scar tissue can build up and cause the esophagus to narrow and harden.
  • Collapsed Trachea: The trachea is a rigid tube that carries air from the cat’s mouth and nose to the lungs, collapse can occur when the trachea narrows or collapses.
  • Upper airway obstruction: itcan be caused by polyps, neoplasms, laryngeal paralysis or foreign bodies.
  • Brachycephalic syndrome:As the name suggests, this disorder is most commonly seen in short-nosed cat breeds such as Persians and Exotics. Its facial structure is such that the nose and maxilla (mandible) are reduced in length, but the soft tissue inside the mouth and neck is normal in structure and size. This mismatch means that the airways are not open as they should be as they are.


Diagnosis of cough

In order for your vet to make an initial diagnosis, you will need to provide a complete history of your cat’s health, recent activities, and the onset of symptoms. Sneezing and coughing can often be mistaken for each other , so the vet will evaluate your cat to determine if it really is a cough or a sneeze. The sounds can be very similar, although the mouth remains closed during a sneeze, while with coughing, the mouth opens.

The pattern and frequency of the cough are very important in determining the cause of the cough.  The veterinarian will ask you about the duration, time, pattern, frequency and characteristics of your cat’s cough, so it would be interesting to take note of the symptoms that your cat presents before going to the veterinary consultation.

The vet will need to check whether the cough is productive or non-productive . In productive coughs, secretions, fluids, and mucous membranes can be expelled from the respiratory tract, whereas in non-productive or dry coughs, no such material is produced.

After you have made the initial history and physical examination, the veterinarian will take a complete blood count, a biochemical profile and  analysis  of  urine  for analysis.

If your cat also has nosebleeds or is coughing up blood, tests related to blood clotting will be performed to determine if blood clotting in the body is working normally. Other diagnostic tools include X-rays, computed tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).



Medical treatment of cough

It is important to identify the cause of the cough and treatment depends on the underlying cause, but may include:

Heartworm :  There are no medications that have been approved for use in cats with heartworm. Treatment is aimed at providing support, such as bronchodilators to help with breathing. In severe cases, the vet may decide to administer medications to kill the heartworm, however this carries risks and should only be used as a last resort.

Allergies :  If possible, the trigger should be avoided, corticosteroids to relieve symptoms, and hyposensitization (allergy shots) may be helpful in some cases.

Heart disease: treatment depends on the type of heart disease your cat has, but may include medications to improve heart function, diuretics to remove fluids, surgical repair, low-salt diet, keeping your cat in a stress-free environment .

Cat flu:  supportive care such as fluids to treat dehydration and nutritional support. Antibiotics may be prescribed to treat secondary bacterial infections.

Pinworm:  These worms are easily treated with antiparasitic medications.

Asthma and bronchitis:  steroids to reduce inflammation (either oral or inhaled) and bronchodilators to open the airways.

Hairballs:  Increasing the diet with bran, pumpkin, or lubricants can help your cat to eliminate hairballs more easily. There are also special diets for hairballs that your vet will tell you about.

Nasopharyngeal polyps:  surgical removal of polyps.

Feline Bordetella:  Antibiotics are prescribed to treat Bordetella. There is also a vaccine available.

Ticks:  removal of ticks; if paralysis occurs, aggressive treatment will be necessary. Oxygen to help with breathing, antiserum to counteract poison.

Pulmonary embolism –  anticoagulant medications, as well as medications to break down the embolism.

GERD –  When possible, the underlying cause is treated if it can be established and further damage to the esophagus is avoided with antacid medications to inhibit stomach acid production. Cats with a severely damaged esophagus may require a stomach tube. Unfortunately, this is not a long-term solution.

Congestive heart failure:  The medical cause is sought and symptoms are relieved with oxygen therapy, thoracentesis, diuretics to help with the elimination of fluids through the urine, and vasodilators to open the vessels.

Pneumonia –  Antibiotics to treat bacterial infection and supportive care, including oxygen therapy, fluids to treat dehydration, and cage rest.

Collapsed stroke:  Weight reductions, cough suppressants, corticosteroids to relieve inflammation, and bronchodilators to open the airways may be prescribed.

Tuberculosis:  In most cases, due to the severity of this disease, as well as the risk of infecting people, euthanasia is generally recommended.

Upper Airway Obstruction – Immediate care to stabilize the cat may include oxygen therapy, keeping your cat as less stressed as possible as stress can aggravate the problem, short-acting corticosteroids to decrease inflammation, and fluid therapy . Surgery to remove the obstruction,

Pleural effusion:  Finding and treating the cause when possible and supportive care, such as removing fluid from the pleural cavity and oxygen therapy.

Brachycephalic syndrome:  Supportive care, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, and oxygen therapy. These are not curative, but they can help relieve symptoms. Surgery to shorten the soft palate will be necessary to cure the disorder.





Home care to treat your cat’s cough

Follow your vet’s instructions and administer medications as prescribed. Never give cats human cough medications as these are extremely toxic to them.

Try to keep your cat in a toxin-free and stress-free environment as much as possible to avoid triggers, which can irritate the airways, these include:

  • Do not smoke around your cat, cigarette smoke is a known carcinogen to both cats and people, as well as a major trigger for cats with respiratory disorders.
  • Avoid using a wood or charcoal fire near the cat.
  • Avoid using synthetic chemicals, switch to natural household cleaners like white vinegar and baking soda.
  • Switch to dust-free kitty litter.
  • Avoid household sprays like deodorants and hairspray.


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