Why Does My Cat Cough?

Updated on July 7, 2019
Bridget F profile image

Bridget is a long-time cat owner, cat sitter, and cat lover with years of feline research and hands-on experience.


Causes of Cat Coughs

There are a number of reasons why your cat may be coughing! If the coughing starts suddenly, is severe, is coupled with other symptoms (like weight loss) and is not typical for your cat, the best option is to see a vet immediately!

Common causes of coughing in cats include:

  • Infection or viruses (these can include upper respiratory tract infections, feline viral rhinotracheitis, or the bacteria Bordetella, for instance).
  • Hairballs (especially in long-haired cats)
  • Feline asthma
  • Allergies or inhaled foreign materials such as grass, pollen, or dust. This could also include inhalation of cleaning products, so watch carefully when using chemicals around the house.
  • Lung/bronchial disease
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer (chest tumors)
  • Parasites such as lungworm, picked up from infected prey or water

Common Parasites in Cats

Capillaria aerophila and Aelurostrongylus abstrusus are two of those most commonly found parasites in cats. These parasites cause lungworm, leading to coughing and shortness of breath.

Diagnosis of a Coughing Cat

If the cough is not clearly linked with inhalation of a substance or upper respiratory infection (such as with a runny nose or watery eyes), further investigation is needed.

A veterinarian may begin with:

  • Blood tests (including heartworm tests)
  • Laboratory cultures of a wash sample from the lower respiratory tract
  • Endoscopic examination
  • Radiography
  • Ultrasound evaluation
  • Bronchoscopy, where a flexible camera (a bronchoscope) is passed through the mouth and down into the airways of the lungs

Your cat may require sedation for some of these tests, but they will help to find the cause of your furry friend's cough.

Age Matters

  • Young or very old cats are more likely to develop a cough because of an infection with bacteria or viruses.
  • Young to middle-aged cats often develop wheezing and cough because of asthma.

What Is a Wash Sample?

If the vet says that your cat needs a "wash sample," they are referring to a bronchoalveolar lavage (BL). A BL is when a bronchoscope is passed through the mouth down into the lungs, and fluid is squirted into the lungs and recollected (suctioned) for sampling. This can also be done via urinary catheter into the endotracheal tube.

Treatment of Cat Coughs

The treatment will depend on the diagnosis.

  • If the tests come back positive for parasites, then your cat will be treated based on the particular worm.
  • For heartworm, medications called bronchodilators help a cat breathe, and medication may be given to kill the worm.
  • Lungworm is treated with topical treatments such as Revolution, as well as oral deworming medication and supportive immunotherapy.
  • Antibiotics will be given for infections.
  • Anti-inflammatories or antihistamines are given for allergies.
  • Treatment for cancer, tumors, cysts, and heart disease will depend on owner decision-making and the health of the cat.


What's Regular and Irregular?

The most important thing is to know your cat! If she isn't one to cough up a hairball now and then, and she starts coughing like crazy, ensure that she receives prompt medical care. If he is a long-haired cat and does experience frequent hairball fits, there are many over-the-counter or prescription options to help soothe his tummy. Most causes of cat coughs can be fixed or at least reduced with the right diagnosis and care!

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2018 Bridget F


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    • Bridget F profile imageAUTHOR

      Bridget F 

      22 months ago from USA

      FlourishAnyway, thank you so much!! Always so nice when you stop by :)

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      22 months ago from USA

      What an excellent well-informed article. Superb.


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