Cat Coughing: Causes, Symptoms, and When to See a Vet

Cats can exhibit a range of behaviors, and occasional coughing can be a part of their normal life. However, when a cat’s coughing becomes persistent or severe, it might be a sign of an underlying issue. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and appropriate responses to cat coughing can help pet owners take the best care of their feline companions. At Whitney Veterinary Hospital in Peoria, IL, we’re here to provide you with all the necessary information to ensure your cat stays healthy and happy. If you have concerns about your cat’s coughing, call us at (309) 685-4707 to schedule a consultation.




Common Causes of Cat Coughing

Cat coughing can be triggered by various factors, ranging from mild irritations to serious health concerns. Identifying the cause of your cat’s cough is crucial for determining the best course of action.

Respiratory Infections

One of the most common causes of cat coughing is respiratory infections. These can include viral infections like feline herpesvirus and calicivirus, or bacterial infections such as Bordetella. Cats can contract these infections from other animals or from the environment. Symptoms often include coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge, and fever.

Asthma and Allergies

Feline asthma, also known as allergic bronchitis, is another frequent cause of coughing in cats. This condition occurs when a cat’s airways become inflamed due to allergens such as pollen, dust, or mold. Symptoms of asthma include coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. In some cases, asthma can be life-threatening, so it’s essential to monitor your cat’s condition closely.

Foreign Bodies

Cats are naturally curious and may inhale or ingest foreign objects, leading to coughing. Small objects like grass, feathers, or even food particles can get lodged in their throat or airways, causing irritation and coughing. If your cat’s cough is sudden and severe, it might be due to a foreign body.

Heart Disease

Heart disease in cats can also lead to coughing. Conditions like hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which affects the heart muscle, can cause fluid buildup in the lungs, leading to coughing and difficulty breathing. Other symptoms of heart disease may include lethargy, loss of appetite, and weight loss.

Lung Parasites

Parasites such as lungworms can infect a cat’s respiratory system, leading to coughing. These parasites are typically contracted through contact with infected animals or contaminated environments. In addition to coughing, infected cats may experience weight loss, lethargy, and decreased appetite.


While hairballs are a common issue for cats, they can sometimes cause coughing. Cats groom themselves frequently, and the ingested fur can accumulate in their stomach. When the fur is not passed through their digestive system, it can form a hairball, which the cat then tries to cough up. Hairballs are usually not a cause for concern, but frequent hairball-related coughing can indicate excessive grooming or underlying digestive issues.

Recognizing Symptoms Associated with Cat Coughing

Understanding the symptoms associated with cat coughing can help pet owners determine whether the cough is a minor issue or a sign of a more serious condition.

  • Frequency and Intensity: The frequency and intensity of your cat’s coughing can provide important clues about the underlying cause. Occasional, mild coughing might be due to a minor irritation, while persistent, severe coughing can indicate a more serious health issue.
  • Additional Respiratory Symptoms: Coughing is often accompanied by other respiratory symptoms, such as wheezing, sneezing, or nasal discharge. These symptoms can help narrow down the potential causes of the cough.
  • Changes in Behavior: Behavioral changes, such as lethargy, reduced appetite, or increased hiding, can indicate that your cat is not feeling well. These changes, in conjunction with coughing, may suggest a more serious health problem.
  • Physical Symptoms: Physical symptoms such as weight loss, difficulty breathing, or cyanosis (a bluish tint to the gums and tongue) are signs that your cat may be experiencing a severe health issue. Immediate veterinary attention is recommended if these symptoms are present.
  • Duration of Symptoms: The duration of your cat’s coughing can also provide valuable information. A cough that resolves quickly is often less concerning than one that persists for several days or weeks. Chronic coughing should always be evaluated by a veterinarian.

When to See a Vet for Cat Coughing

Determining when to seek veterinary care for your cat’s coughing can be challenging. Here are some guidelines to help you decide when it’s time to call Whitney Veterinary Hospital.

Persistent Coughing

If your cat’s coughing persists for more than a few days, it’s time to seek veterinary advice. Persistent coughing can indicate an underlying health issue that needs to be addressed.

Severe Symptoms

Severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, cyanosis, or collapse, require immediate veterinary attention. These symptoms can indicate life-threatening conditions like asthma attacks or heart failure.

Accompanying Symptoms

If your cat’s coughing is accompanied by other concerning symptoms, such as lethargy, weight loss, or decreased appetite, it’s important to schedule a veterinary appointment. These symptoms can suggest a more serious health problem.

History of Health Issues

Cats with a history of respiratory or heart issues should be closely monitored for coughing. If your cat has a known health condition, any changes in their coughing pattern should be discussed with your veterinarian.


If you’re unsure whether your cat’s coughing warrants a veterinary visit, it’s always better to err on the side of caution. Contact Whitney Veterinary Hospital at (309) 685-4707 for advice and guidance.

What to Expect During a Veterinary Visit

When you bring your cat to the veterinarian for coughing, the visit will typically involve several steps to diagnose the issue and determine the best treatment plan.

  • Initial Examination: The veterinarian will start with a thorough physical examination, checking your cat’s overall health and looking for any obvious signs of illness. This examination will include listening to your cat’s heart and lungs.
  • Diagnostic Tests: To pinpoint the cause of the coughing, the veterinarian may recommend diagnostic tests such as blood work, X-rays, or a tracheal wash. These tests can help identify infections, parasites, heart disease, or other underlying conditions.
  • Treatment Options: Based on the results of the examination and tests, the veterinarian will develop a treatment plan tailored to your cat’s needs. This plan may include medications, lifestyle changes, or further diagnostic testing if necessary.
  • Follow-Up Care: Follow-up care is crucial to ensure your cat’s condition improves. Your veterinarian will schedule follow-up appointments to monitor your cat’s progress and adjust the treatment plan as needed.

How to Support Your Cat’s Respiratory Health

Supporting your cat’s respiratory health can help prevent coughing and other respiratory issues. Here are some tips to keep your cat healthy and reduce the risk of respiratory problems.

Maintain a Clean Environment

Keeping your home clean and free of dust, mold, and other allergens can help reduce the risk of respiratory issues in your cat. Regularly clean your cat’s bedding, litter box, and living areas.

Provide a Healthy Diet

A balanced diet supports your cat’s overall health, including their respiratory system. Ensure your cat receives high-quality food that meets their nutritional needs.

Monitor for Allergens

Identify and minimize exposure to common allergens that can trigger respiratory issues in cats. This may include pollen, cigarette smoke, and certain cleaning products.

Regular Veterinary Check-Ups

Regular veterinary check-ups are essential for maintaining your cat’s health. Routine exams can help identify potential health issues before they become serious problems.

Minimize Stress

Stress can weaken your cat’s immune system and make them more susceptible to respiratory issues. Provide a calm, stable environment and plenty of enrichment activities to keep your cat happy and healthy.

Protecting Your Cat’s Health

Understanding the causes and symptoms of cat coughing, as well as when to seek veterinary care, is vital for every cat owner. By staying informed and proactive, you can help ensure your cat’s well-being and address any health issues promptly. If you have concerns about your cat’s coughing, contact Whitney Veterinary Hospital in Peoria, IL, at (309) 685-4707. Our team is here to provide the care and support your cat needs.