Will cats cough?
Like humans, cats can cough but it’s infrequently. In rare cases (once in a few months or less) coughing may be normal, but most cats will not cough unless there is a problem. The respiratory system of cat extends from the nose to the lungs-including the nasal cavity, throat, vocal cords, trachea, and lungs. The lungs are passages of air, called the bronchi, which lead to the bronchioles after they become smaller. Any irritation from the pharynx to the bronchi can cause a cough, so knowing exactly the cause (or where it comes from) is tricky.
What is the sound of a cat coughing?
Coughing cats usually stop the activity they are doing, stick their heads out, and crane their necks. It may cough once or several times. If the cat coughs continuously, it will generally stay where it is. When coughing, the cat’s chest and abdomen movements are very violent, because coughing is to expel the air forcefully. Cats will not pant or open their mouths when they cough, and they don’t actually cough fast – there may be at least a second or two between each cough.
There are two types of coughs: one is dry cough and the other is wet cough. A cat with a dry cough, after coughing, you won’t hear the sound of swallowing. A wet cough sounds like water or something stuck in the back of the cat’s throat. In fact, for the average pet parent, it is still more difficult to distinguish whether the cat is coughing or the sound made for other reasons.
These other causes include:
Vomiting occurs when something gets stuck in the back of the throat. Cats usually make loud noises suddenly, open their mouths wide, and then close them again. After a short cough, nausea may occur, and a very small amount of fluid (and possibly food) may come out.
Reverse sneezing usually comes from irritation of the nose and throat. The cat’s mouth is likely to be closed. Multiple sneezes occur quickly without pausing, the lips are pulled back, and the cat inhales inward (rather than inhale out like a cough). There is likely to be a swallowing action afterward.
Vomiting is when the body releases the contents of the stomach (or nearby small intestine) from the mouth. Liquid and food will be produced (unless the cat’s stomach is empty). In some cases, there will be a lot of hair flowing out. In the process of vomiting, the cat’s abdomen will move violently. In order to vomit, one must stop exercising. Most cats vomit more than once in single vomiting, but their vomiting time may be a few seconds apart, or it may be a few hours.
To find out if your cat is coughing, you can take a video and show it to the vet when it occurs. The veterinarian will be able to diagnose whether the sound you hear is a cough. When shooting the video, be closer to the cat so that you can see the cat’s face, throat, and chest clearly.
Common causes of cat coughing
There are many reasons for cats to cough. Remember, the problem can be anywhere from the throat to deep in the chest. Determining the cause of the cat’s cough will determine the treatment plan.
Many pet parents believe that their cat’s cough is caused by hair balls. But if your cat has hairballs, it is likely to regurgitate or vomit, which is different from coughing. If your vet watches the video and is sure that your cat is coughing, it is almost certainly not because of the hairball.
Possible causes of cat cough include the following:
1. Viral respiratory infections
This may be caused by feline herpes virus or feline calicivirus. These viruses can spread from cat to cat. Cats are infected when they are young and carry the virus for the rest of their lives. In most cases, these viruses affect the upper respiratory tract, like the nose and throat. If the throat becomes inflamed and irritated, a cough may occur.
2. Chronic bronchitis (also known as asthma)
Approximately 1% of sick cats are diagnosed with chronic bronchitis (or feline asthma), which is similar to human asthma. This is a disease related to airway inflammation, which in most cases causes a chronic dry cough. However, cats can hide diseases well and may suddenly start coughing and have difficulty breathing instead of showing a chronic cough.
3. Infectious bronchitis
This is inflammation of the lungs and airways caused by infection. The reasons for its occurrence may include many, like Mycoplasma or Bordetella bronchitis. These bacteria rarely exist alone and often infect the upper respiratory tract or lungs together with the virus. Coughing occurs suddenly and is usually accompanied by fever, loss of appetite, reduced activity, sneezing, and nasal mucus. There exist parasites which are called lungworms. These parasites are located in the air passages of the lungs, causing inflammation and causing cats to cough. These parasites are more common in kittens that live outdoors.
Pneumonia in cats generally refers to inflammation of the lungs. Pneumonia comes quickly and can make your cat feel very uncomfortable. It may have a fever, lack of appetite, inactivity, and may have difficulty breathing. This may be caused by many reasons, like: bacteria, viruses, parasites, protozoa (like Toxoplasma gondii), fungal or mold infections. Vomit or gastric juices are accidentally inhaled and cause infection, usually when severe vomiting or sedation is anesthesia.
5. Foreign body in the throat
Occasionally, parts of plants, what the cat is trying to eat, and even hairballs will get stuck in the throat or nose. If there is a foreign body, it will produce inflammation and mucus, which can cause coughing.
6. Nasopharyngeal polyps
This is a lump caused by chronic inflammation of the nose or throat. Normally, there is no specific root cause. These swellings can cause inflammation and usually produce mucus, which can cause coughing. It can also cause voice changes or breathing loudly through the nose, like snoring.
Edema refers to the condition that fluid fills the airways of the lungs, causing coughing. The body tries to get rid of the fluid and struggles to breathe. This may be caused by the heart (cardiogenic), or it may not. Since coughing caused by heart failure is extremely rare in cats, if edema occurs, it is unlikely to be related to heart disease. Even so, the only way is to ask a specialist or cardiologist to examine the cat’s heart.
Cancer in cats can cause coughing in many different ways. One way is to grow a large lump in the chest or throat and compress the air passages in the trachea or lungs. Another possibility is to find cancer in the throat and trachea.
When a cat is traumatized, it will bleed in the trachea, causing coughing. Sometimes, the lungs themselves will be punctured so that air will escape, making breathing difficult. In any case, these cats need immediate medical attention.
10. Pleural effusion
This means that some kind of fluid is in the cat’s chest cavity, but outside the lungs. It may be a bacterial infection, cancer fluid, or lymph fluid (rarely). These fluids can put pressure on the lungs and cause coughing.
11. Swollen lymph nodes deep in the chest
There are naturally many lymph nodes in the cat’s chest cavity, which work in the immune system. Cancer or serious infections can cause these lymph nodes to swell, and if they are swollen significantly, it will put pressure on the trachea and air passages and cause coughing.
Rare causes of cat coughing
The above causes of coughing in cats are more common, but there are other reasons that may cause coughing. The following reasons are rare and do not occur frequently.
1. Heartworm disease
Heartworm infection is more common in dogs because cats are naturally resistant to that. However, when a cat is infected with heartworm, if the cat has symptoms, it is often life-threatening. Because heartworm parasites in the trachea, causing severe inflammation, coughing occurs. If a cat lives outdoors in an area known to have heartworm disease and does not receive heartworm prevention on a monthly basis, it may develop heartworm disease.
This means that severe chronic inflammation has occurred in the trachea of the lungs, and it has become thickened and hardened permanently. Due to the presence of inflammation, a cough may occur.
3. Throat Paralysis
This condition is more common in dogs than in cats. The larynx is the opening of the trachea. It is made up of two folds of tissue that will open when your cat breathes. If these folds are paralyzed or cannot be opened, inflammation will occur, the ability to breathe will decrease, and a cough will occur.
How to treat cat cough
How to treat a coughing cat depends on the cause of the cough, so a veterinarian’s diagnosis is very important. Some of the more common treatments for cat cough include:
Antibiotics to treat respiratory infections or pneumonia, like doxycycline or enrofloxacin.
Steroids used to treat chronic bronchitis, polyps, or other inflammations, like oral prednisolone or fluticasone-containing aerosol formulations.
There are many options for antiparasitic drugs to treat lung worms, like Mieroxime.
If the cat’s condition is more serious, like pleural effusion, trauma or severe pneumonia, it may need to stay in the hospital and receive treatment with oxygen, medication and special procedures, like removing fluid from the chest cavity.
If there are foreign bodies or polyps, the veterinarian may recommend anesthetizing the cat in the hospital and checking the cat’s mouth, throat, and nasal cavity while sleeping. If a polyp is found, the veterinarian may remove it. If a foreign body is stuck near the back of the throat, or a large amount of mucus is produced, flushing the nasal cavity may help.
When to worry about a cat’s cough
If you have never heard a cat cough, and suddenly heard it one day, then you need to pay close attention. If a cat has been coughing for two weeks or more, even if it coughs occasionally, it is likely to have a chronic disease that needs attention. If your cat is coughing, take it to the veterinarian as soon as possible. This is the best way to ensure your cat’s health. If your cat coughs frequently or looks painful, you should take it to the vet immediately.
The following symptoms occurring while coughing indicate that cats should seek medical attention immediately:
Loss of appetite;
Reduced activity or inactivity;
Hiding or other behavior changes;
Respiration rate exceeds once per second (more than 60 breaths per minute);
Very short breathing or panting.