Do cats cough?
expiratory effort producing a sudden, noisy expulsion of air from the lungs. It is usually stimulated by an irritation or
effort to expel some foreign material or accumulated inflammatory secretion or exudate. Bouts of coughing may
end with a retch and even bringing up of stomach contents.
What causes cats to cough?
In cats, coughing is most often a sign of an inflammatory problem affecting the lower respiratory tract, especially
some form of bronchitis. This inflammation will often be from infection particularly with viruses such as Feline Viral
Rhinotracheitis or bacteria such as Bordetella. Parasitic worms may be responsible in a few cases. Allergies of
various origins may also cause coughing. Cats can cough for a variety of other reasons, including the presence of
foreign material within the airway (e.g. pieces of inhaled grass), or irritation from inhaled liquids or gases. Chest
tumors (cancer) can occasionally cause coughing. Coughing is rarely associated with heart disease in cats.
Coughing can also be seen with upper respiratory tract disease when irritation or inflammation affects the larynx or
trachea, or a disease in the nose that results in excessive secretions draining into the larynx and trachea, causing
irritation and coughing.
When does a coughing cat need veterinary attention?
It is normal for all cats to cough occasionally, and provided that the cat is maintaining good health and the cough is
not productive (not resulting in the production of phlegm or sputum), veterinary attention is not indicated. However,
if the cough persists for more than a few days, is severe, productive, or if the cat appears sick and losing weight,
you should consult your veterinarian.
How is the cause of a cat's cough diagnosed?
Because most cases of coughing are associated with other signs of respiratory infection, an intensive initial work up
may not be required. However, if the cough is severe or if it has been present for some time, then further
investigation may be needed. Careful recollection by the owner of the onset of the problem and its progression,
any changes in the environment, or any other signs of illness in the cat, will be important. The clinical work-up may
include blood tests, laboratory cultures of a wash sample from the lower respiratory tract, endoscopic examination
and radiography. The cat may be given a sedative for some of these procedures.
How will the cough be treated?
Treatment depends on the diagnosis. Symptomatic treatment with decongestant medicines may be helpful in mild
cases. In the case of viral with secondary bacterial infection or primary bacterial infection, antibiotics will likely
provide rapid improvement. Do not stop the treatment once the cat seems better. Complete the medication as
prescribed otherwise the infection may return and be more difficult to treat.
If the coughing is a more chronic problem (i.e. has been present for one to two months), there may be permanent
damage to the mucous membrane surfaces such that they are not capable of healing. In these cases, infections
may be recurrent. Targeted supplements that improve mucous membrane repair or act as immune stimulants may
be helpful. Anti-inflammatory drugs may be used to suppress the inflammation particularly if there is an allergic
basis and the allergen cannot be found and removed from the cat’s environment. In the case of certain types of
cancer, chemotherapy may be an option.
This client information sheet is based on material written by Ernest E. Ward Jr., DVM.
© Copyright 2002 Lifelearn Inc. Used with permission under license. October 1, 2009.
Animal Clinic, PA