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
The most common cause of liver failure in cats is idiopathic hepatic lipidosis. The next most
common cause is cholangiohepatitis. Infectious diseases that involve the liver
include feline infectious peritonitis and toxoplasmosis.
and cancers that begin in the liver or spread there from other locations are
other causes of liver insufficiency.
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.
Only minor coughs of brief duration should be treated at home. A variety of
cough suppressants used for children are available at drugstores to treat mild
coughs. However, medications containing acetaminophen (Tylenol), codeine, and
other narcotics are toxic to cats and must never be used. Plain Robitussin is
an example of a safe and effective cough preparation for cats. It contains an
expectorant called guaifenesen that does not suppress the cough reflex but
liquefies mucus secretions so they can be coughed free. Robitussin-DM contains
the cough suppressant dextromethorphan-the only cough suppressant that is safe
for cats. These medications are not approved for use in cats and should not be
used without consulting your veterinarian. In fact, no medication, even an
over-the-counter one for children, should be given to your cat without first
consulting your veterinarian.
Although cough suppressants decrease the frequency and severity of the
cough, they do not treat the disease or condition causing it. Their overuse may
delay a proper diagnosis and treatment. Cough suppressants (but not
expectorants) should be avoided when phlegm is being brought up or swallowed.
These coughs are clearing unwanted material from the airway.
WebMD Veterinary Reference from "Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook"