Watching a cat cough and wretch, regardless the cause, is disturbing. The cat becomes agitated and apprehensive; each cough looks as though it will be the last. What could possibly be behind all of this drama? Well the truth is there are a number of causes for cats coughing; some serious, all disturbing.
Do you remember seeing the animated movie Shrek? One of the film’s greatest characters, for me, was Puss in Boots and one of the most hilarious scenes was watching him cough up a hairball. The visual impression of Puss coughing was spot on. Unfortunately, it left you with the impression that cats cough because of hairballs and that it’s the only reason.
What causes coughing in cats?
Coughing is a protective reflex intended to rid the respiratory tract of foreign particles, mucus, irritants and microbes. It is not a disease in itself but it is a sign of an underlying problem. Coughing in cats is induced primarily by irritation or inflammation in the bronchi or trachea and can be associated with a variety of conditions ranging from mild to severe. These conditions include1:
- A variety of infectious agents
- Parasitic diseases
- Allergic conditions
- Bronchial disease (both infectious and non infectious)
- Cardiac disease
With so many possible causes, how is the cause of coughing diagnosed? It is important that your veterinarian be consulted with any ongoing or severe cough. The nature of the cough along with other physical findings may be helpful in diagnosing the underlying cause.
Narrowing down the cause of coughing
Your veterinarian may consider several clues when determining why your cat is coughing:
- A cough accompanied by sneezing may be caused by a viral, respiratory infection.
- A cough accompanied by wheezing might be bronchial in origin and associated with asthma.
- A cough accompanied by weight loss, lethargy and anorexia may be associated with parasitic diseases or cancer.
In short, coughing does not automatically equate to hairballs. The potential causes of coughing are numerous and hairballs are just one.
In addition to a thorough physical examination and history your veterinarian my want to run several tests or take radiographs of the cat’s chest1.
How is coughing treated in cats?
It is important to identify the cause of the coughing; treatment depends on that underlying cause. Specific treatments may include:
- Antiparasite drugs
- Dietary changes that make it easier for cats to pass hairballs
Prognosis of coughing in cats
The likelihood of treatments being successful vary with the diagnosis. Be sure to consult with your veterinarian if your cat is coughing excessively or if the cough is accompanied by other signs.