Coughing is a reflex initiated
by an irritant in the bronchial tubes. It can be caused by a respiratory infection; inhaled
irritants such as smoke and chemicals; foreign objects such as grass seeds,
dust and food particles; pressure from a tight collar; or growths arising in
the bronchial tubes. Some coughs are triggered by an allergic reaction. The
type of cough often suggests the location and probable cause:
A cough accompanied by sneezing and watery red eyes
suggests feline viral respiratory disease complex.
A deep, paroxysmal cough with the cat’s neck extended and the production of phlegm
suggests chronic bronchitis.
A sudden coughing attack accompanied by wheezing and difficulty
breathing suggests feline asthma.
Sporadic coughing with weight loss, listlessness, and depressed appetite is
seen in cats with heartworms, lungworms, and
Spasms of coughing that occur after exercise suggest acute bronchitis.
Some cardiac problems, including cardiomyopathy, will cause a cat to
Coughs are self-perpetuating. Coughing irritates the bronchial tubes, dries
out the mucous lining, and lowers resistance to infection-leading to further
Toxoplasmosis is a disease caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, which can be found in garden soil and raw meat. Cats can get toxoplasma infection by killing and eating infected prey. The disease can also be passed on from cats to humans.
The diagnostic workup of a cat with a chronic cough includes a chest X-ray
and transtracheal washings. These washings are obtained by placing a sterile
tube into the trachea with the cat under light anesthesia. Microscopic examination of recovered cells
leads to a specific diagnosis.
Bronchoscopy is an excellent method of evaluating bronchial tube disease. A
fiber-optic instrument is passed into the trachea, again with the cat under
anesthesia. The bronchial tubes can be viewed directly, biopsies taken, and
phlegm removed via bronchial lavage for microscopic exam and culture and
Treatment: Coughs accompanied by fever, difficulty breathing, discharge from
the eyes and nose, or other signs of a serious illness should be treated by a
veterinarian. Also, if your cat’s appetite is off and she is coughing, she
should be taken in for a veterinary exam.
It is important to identify and correct contributing problems. Air
pollutants such as cigarette smoke, aerosol insecticides, house dust, and
perfumes should be eliminated from the atmosphere. HEPA filters can assist in
this effort. Any nose, throat, lung, or heart disorders should be treated.