Reasons Why Cats Cough and How to Treat It


Have you ever witnessed your cat coughing relentlessly or trying to expel something? Don’t take it lightly, as it could be a sign of a respiratory condition.

1. Do Cats Cough?

Cats do cough, but not as frequently as other animals. ‘Hacking’ or dry coughing, including coughing up hairballs, is often mistaken for respiratory coughing in cats. Coughing serves as a protective mechanism to prevent the accumulation of mucus and foreign substances in the respiratory tract. However, it can also be an early warning sign of feline respiratory tract inflammation.

2. What Causes Cats to Cough?

  • Respiratory infections, particularly bronchial inflammation, are a common cause of coughing in cats. These infections are often caused by viruses like feline calicivirus (FCV) or feline herpesvirus (FHV) or bacteria such as Bordetella.
  • Parasitic infections, especially heartworm, can cause coughing and respiratory problems in some cases.
  • Allergies can also make cats cough. Cats can cough for various reasons, including the presence of foreign objects (such as inhaled grass) in the airways or irritation from inhaling liquids or gases.
  • Chest tumors or lung inflammation can also lead to coughing.
  • Cats with upper respiratory tract infections may cough when the larynx or trachea is irritated or inflamed. Excessive nasal discharge can flow into the larynx and trachea, causing irritation and coughing.

3. What to Do When Your Cat Coughs?

Occasional coughing in cats is usually normal as long as they remain healthy and eat and drink normally. However, if your cat experiences persistent coughing along with the following symptoms, it’s advisable to take them to a veterinarian for a check-up:

  • Prolonged and continuous coughing: If your cat coughs excessively, continuously, and for more than a few days or if it worsens, it’s essential to seek veterinary attention. Prolonged coughing may indicate feline upper respiratory tract inflammation or asthma.
  • Productive cough: This type of cough produces moist sounds and can be a sign of lower respiratory tract issues.
  • Other symptoms: If your cat coughs frequently, experiences weight loss, coughs up blood, has a hoarse voice, faints suddenly, vomits, or has bluish gums and tongue (indicating insufficient oxygen intake), seek veterinary care.
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4. Diagnosing Cat Coughs

How to handle a coughing cat? Take them to a veterinary clinic for an accurate diagnosis. The veterinarian will examine the cough’s pattern: duration, frequency, and characteristics. Questions like whether your cat coughs frequently, has a dry or productive cough, or coughs continuously are vital.

Keeping a detailed record of your cat’s symptoms is crucial in identifying the underlying cause. Note when the coughing began, its progression, any changes in the cat’s living environment, or any other signs of illness.

To further investigate, the veterinarian may order necessary tests, such as:

  • Blood and urine tests: These can identify any underlying infections or allergies based on the white blood cell count. Biochemical blood tests can reveal liver enzymes or other internal abnormalities.
  • If your cat coughs up blood or has a bloody nose, the veterinarian may perform tests related to the blood clotting mechanism to check if it functions properly. X-rays, CT scans, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be conducted. Several tests can also help differentiate between coughing and feline asthma.

5. Treating a Coughing Cat

The key to treating a coughing cat is to identify and address the underlying cause.

  • Symptomatic treatment with nasal decongestants can be helpful in mild cases.
  • If your cat is diagnosed with an infection or primary viral infection with secondary bacterial infection, antibiotics can quickly improve the condition.
  • Antibiotics may be prescribed for a minimum of two weeks or longer. It’s crucial to complete the prescribed course of antibiotics as instructed, as interrupting the treatment can lead to the return of the infection, making it harder to treat.
  • If the cough is a chronic issue that has been present for one to two months, the delicate mucus membranes in the lungs may be permanently damaged, impairing the healing process. In such cases, cats may develop chronic respiratory problems, meaning recurrent and prolonged respiratory infections.
  • Supplements that aid in mucus membrane repair or act as immune system stimulants can be useful. Anti-inflammatory medications may be used to reduce inflammation.
  • If the cause of the cough is an allergy, your cat may require anti-inflammatory medications. But most importantly, eliminating the allergens from their environment is crucial.
  • Chemotherapy may be an option for certain types of cancer in cats. For more information on feline cancer and its treatment, consult a veterinarian.
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In severe cases, your furry friend may need hospitalization for intensive care and treatment. Typically, veterinarians provide oxygen to facilitate breathing and administer antibiotics to control common respiratory infections causing coughing.

  • The use of cough suppressants should only be done under veterinary guidance, as cough suppressants may not always be medically beneficial, especially in cases like feline respiratory distress syndrome.
  • In most cases, treating the underlying condition rather than just the symptom of coughing is crucial. Using cough suppressants may mask the disease condition, and over time, the cat’s condition may worsen.


Coughing in cats can be a symptom of various issues, such as feline upper respiratory tract inflammation or parasitic infections. Typically, cats that cough will exhibit accompanying symptoms. If you notice your cat experiencing prolonged coughing, wheezing, productive coughs, or any other concerning signs, it’s important to take them to a veterinary clinic for an examination. The diagnostic process might be an investment, but it ensures the well-being of your beloved feline companion.

During the treatment process, it’s essential to follow the veterinarian’s instructions, ensuring that your cat receives the correct and adequate dosage of prescribed antibiotics. Ceasing the use of antibiotics prematurely could lead to a more severe recurrence of the infection. Maintain regular communication with your veterinarian throughout the treatment. Inform them immediately of any unusual symptoms or signs. When treating a coughing cat, never administer cough medications without veterinary guidance, as overdosing can potentially be fatal for your cat.

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