Why Does My Cat Cough So Much?

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on November 07, 2021
3 min read

Has your cat’s rumbly purr turned into a cough? That means something is irritating their throat, airways, or lungs.

Some causes are easy to treat. Others are more serious and can be life-threatening. Your vet can find out what’s bothering your pet and keep them in good health.

It’s the most common feline respiratory disorder. About 800,000 American cats -- or 1 percent of all domestic cats in the U.S. -- have some form of it. Ones that spend at least part of their time outdoors are most likely to get it.

When something irritates your cat’s airways, they get inflamed and shrink. This makes it hard for them to breathe. They could get a slight, ongoing cough.

Asthma causes include:

If you notice your pet coughing, take them to the vet. Asthma can worsen quickly, and they might not be able to breathe at all.

Allergies. The causes and symptoms are similar to those of asthma. Your vet can figure out which is to blame.

Fungal lung infection. Your kitty could pick up a fungus from the soil. Each part of the country has a different type, but coughing is a common symptom.

Heartworms. This disease is spread by mosquitos. If you live in an area with these bugs, your cat is more at risk. You can get preventative medicine from your vet. The symptoms resemble asthma, so your pet could be misdiagnosed. 

Lung cancer. Some tumors can be controlled with medication. If not, surgery may be an option.

System diseases. Coughing can be a sign of pneumonia, which can be diagnosed with X-rays and may respond to antibiotics and other therapies. It may also be a sign of congestive heart failure, which be diagnosed with an ultrasound or echocardiogram.

Tight collars. Pressure on your cat’s windpipe can cause damage and lead to a cough.

Worms. These are common in felines. It’s one reason your pet gets regular fecal tests at the vet.

Give them detailed information about the cough:

  • Its quality: Does it sound wet or dry?
  • Timing: When it happens at night, that's often a sign of fluid in the lungs or heart failure.
  • Triggers: If your cat coughs after exercise, they might have heart disease. If it happens after a meal, it could mean problems with their larynx or esophagus.

Knowing this can help your vet pinpoint the most likely causes, choose tests to confirm a diagnosis, and prescribe the best treatment.

Treatment depends on what’s causing the cough. Options include cough suppressants, antibiotics, steroids or other drugs, and even surgery. Asthma can’t be cured in pets or people, but you can manage it. Your vet will talk to you about lifestyle changes and medications.

Don’t treat your pet without talking to a vet. The treatment for one kind of cough could end up making another type worse. Work with your vet to find the best option.

You can lessen the chances that your cat will get the problems that lead to coughs:

  • Have them tested for internal parasites.
  • Don’t use perfumes, room fresheners, carpet deodorizers, hairspray, or aerosol cleaners that can irritate their lungs.
  • Look for cat litter that doesn’t create dust or have added scent.
  • Keep your pet active so their weight stays down.
  • Cut stress. Many cats get ill when their surroundings or routines change. Keep feeding routines, play, and cleaning schedules the same each day.
  • Run a humidifier when the air is dry, especially during cold winter months.
  • Don’t expose your cat to cigarette smoke, especially if they have asthma.
  • Give them a heartworm prevention medication, especially if you live in an area with mosquitos.