It's easy to confuse coughing with retching or vomiting in cats. A coughing cat crouches, sticks her elbows out and opens her mouth to get more air. A vomiting cat sits with the front legs straight, her abdomen contracts and she produces fluid or food.
Many coughing cats have asthma or chronic bronchitis. Like human asthmatics cats with asthma react to something they have inhaled like pollen, cigarette smoke or dust mites. We saw several asthmatic cats during the recent bushfires when the smoke hung low around Canberra.
Cats with bronchitis have long term inflammation of the airways causing thickening of the small airway walls and reduced airflow.
Asthma and bronchitis often overlap in cats. In general, asthmatics have sudden episodes of difficult breathing, wheezing and coughing, while cats with bronchitis have more chronic but less dramatic coughs.
Infections of the bronchi and lungs make asthma and bronchitis suddenly worse.
Other causes of coughing in cats include inhalation of foreign material, such as grass or cigarette smoke, flu virus infections, lungworm, heartworm or lung cancer.
Once we sort out the cause of the cough with X-rays, bronchoscopy or other more specific tests, we target the treatment. For asthma and bronchitis treatment can be lifelong or as necessary.