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Why Is My Cat Coughing? Causes, Diagnosis, & Treatment

Why Is My Cat Coughing? Causes, Diagnosis, & Treatment | BetterVet

It's a sound that all cat parents know. The unmistakable hack of your cat bringing up a hairball, likely onto the new rug. It is normal for cats, especially those with long hair, to produce a hairball or two, but what happens when your cat is making this sound, but nothing comes out? Are they really coughing? Do cats cough? 

It can sometimes be hard to know what is going on with our feline friends, but our BetterVet mobile veterinarians are knowledgeable about coughing in cats, having visited many cats in their home environment, and can help you understand your furry friend a little better. 

Is it Normal for Cats to Cough? 

Like most mammals, cats cough for a number of reasons, however, they tend to do it much less than other species. A cough is an important and normal reflex that helps prevent foreign material from entering the airways from the mouth, nose, or throat. 

The problem with cat coughs is that they can be hard to recognize and are often mistaken for other symptoms such as vomiting, retching, sneezing, and even choking. Cats may even vomit and bring up stomach contents after a coughing fit, as they have a very sensitive vomiting reflex. Cat coughing can be complicated and many pet parents think their cat is trying to bring up a hairball, or that they have something caught in their throat, however, there are many causes for coughing cats. 

Common Causes of Coughing

Although your cat may have trouble with hairballs, it is rarely the primary cause of their coughing. True causes of coughing can range from simple and harmless, to complicated and life-threatening, and include: 

  • Respiratory infections
  • Feline asthma
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Parasites
  • Foreign material
  • Cardiac disease
  • Cancer
  • Nasopharyngeal polyps

What Should I Do if My Cat is Coughing? 

Coughing is a very common reason for pet parents to bring their fur-babies in for a check-up.  As we have learned, it can be hard to know if the cough is benign, or if it could be the early symptoms of something more serious. As always, early intervention is the best course of action when it comes to keeping our kitties happy and healthy. Have a chat with your vet and together you will be able to discuss common cat diseases and whether your cat’s cough is cause for concern. 

As a rule of thumb, any productive, persistent, or worsening cough should always be examined by your veterinarian. An occasional cough in an otherwise healthy cat is usually normal, the key is how often it is happening and how well your cat appears. If you notice your kitty having a cough for a few days in a row, or you think the cough has been going on for a few weeks, then it is time to seek help. Constant coughing can cause damage to the airways and delaying treatment can be dangerous for your pet. 

If you are not sure whether your cat should be seen, schedule a telemedicine video consultation with your vet. Being able to observe your cat’s cough or discuss it with you over video chat can be very helpful and gives the vet many clues to help solve your cat's coughing puzzle. 

Other symptoms that can indicate more serious disease include reduced appetite, runny eyes or nose, sneezing, increased hiding behavior, or lethargy. Panting in cats is an emergency. Cats never pant like a dog unless they are under significant stress, and panting can indicate serious disease or pain. If you notice your cat is panting, or if they have a blue tongue, seek help from a veterinarian or visit your nearest vet clinic  immediately. 

Diagnosing Your Cat’s Cough

Your vet will perform a physical exam to check their general health. Based on your history and what they find on their exam, they may recommend some tests to enable a diagnosis. These may include: 

  • Bloodwork
    • This will check your cat’s red and white blood cells as well as their organs such as the liver and kidneys. 
  • X-rays
    • X-rays help us look inside at your cat’s trachea (windpipe), lungs, and heart. 
  • Ultrasound 
    • This is another form of imaging that helps us look at things in more detail. 
  • Bronchoalveolar lavage
    • A lavage is a procedure that helps us collect cells from deep in your cat’s throat and lungs.

Treating a Cough

The type of treatment recommended will depend on the diagnosis established from the physical exam and any tests performed. Many causes of coughing in cats can be treated successfully, whereas others may need more long-term management. Common causes of coughing including asthma and bronchitis can respond to oral or inhaled medications, while polyps or cancers may require surgery. As there are so many causes of coughing in cats, it is very important to get a diagnosis before implementing treatment or giving medications at home. 


Coughing is a common symptom in cats caused by many different conditions. Bookmark this handy guide in case you are ever wondering, why is my cat coughing? Remember it can be challenging to identify coughing in cats so if you have any concerns, consult with one of our BetterVet mobile veterinarians

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does my cat keep coughing but nothing comes out? 

This is called a non-productive cough. A productive cough occurs when your cat brings something up, like phlegm. Non-productive coughs can be a sign of inflammatory conditions such as bronchitis or asthma which require special treatments. 

When should I worry about my cat's cough? 

Healthy cats may have a single cough every now and then, however, if your kitty's cough is coupled with sneezing, runny nose, or a reduced appetite it is best to get them checked out. This is also true if your cat seems quiet or lethargic, or the cough is lasting longer than a few days.  

Are there any home remedies for coughing in cats? 

As there are so many causes for coughing in cats, it is important to see your vet and get a diagnosis before implementing any treatments, as giving the wrong medicine can be dangerous. 

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