Coughing in Cats

Coughing in Cats

Healthy cats occasionally cough due to transient irritation of the respiratory system from environmental contaminants such as dust or fumes.  Persistent coughing at a higher than normal frequency has many potential causes.

Common Causes

More common causes are listed first.   Less common causes are listed later.

  • Cats with upper respiratory infections may cough.
  • Feline asthma (also called feline bronchitis), an inflammatory disease of the air passages in the lungs, is a common cause of coughing.
  • Bacterial bronchitis, an infection of the airways in the lungs, leads to persistent coughing.
  • Inflammation of the tonsils or other structures in the back of the oral cavity may cause coughing.
  • Heart failure may cause coughing in cats.
  • Cats with pneumonia, a bacterial infection of the lungs, will cough.
  • In older cats, lung cancer may cause coughing.
  • Foreign objects such as grass or foxtails lodged behind the tonsils may trigger coughing. Although rare, this occurs more often in cats who go outside.
  • Rare causes of coughing include lungworms, poisoning with rat or mouse bait, fungal infections of the lungs, heartworm disease, and foreign objects lodged in the lungs or windpipe.

Hairballs do not cause coughing in cats.  Hairballs, when present, are located in the digestive system.  Coughing is a function of the respiratory system.

Recommended Course of Action

Because coughing may be caused by potentially serious or contagious syndromes, the safest course of action is to seek veterinary attention for any cat with a persistent cough.

Any coughing cat who is weak, lethargic, has decreased appetite, or shows other symptoms should receive veterinary attention as soon as possible.  Any cat who is having trouble breathing or suffering respiratory distress should receive immediate veterinary care on an emergency basis.

Copyright © Eric Barchas, DVM All rights reserved.
The contents of this page are provided for general informational purposes only. Under no circumstances should this page be substituted for professional consultation with a veterinarian.