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My Cat Is Coughing & Sneezing – What Could Be Wrong?

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Cats are notorious for being able to “hide” illness for a while. So it makes sense that when your cat starts sneezing and coughing, you may be worried that something more serious is happening.

The occasional cough or sneeze is completely harmless. Just like with humans, cats cough and sneeze to expel foreign material that has entered their nasal passages.

If, however, the symptoms are more frequent and last a while, there may be cause for concern.

So, how do you know when it is time to call the veterinarian?

What Causes Sneezing?

Sneezing is a response to irritation of the nasal passages whether from dust, strong odors, or illness.

Inhaled irritants 

Pay attention to when your cat is sneezing. Is it when he uses the litter box? When you have been cleaning? After using an air freshener? If you can link the sneezing with a strong odor or dust flying around, then there is no cause for concern. 

A few simple changes should do the trick. Try dusting with a damp cloth rather than a dry duster. Purchase litter that has a low dust content. Light candles instead of spraying a chemical freshener (remember that a cat’s sense of smell is more sensitive than yours). Don’t forget to keep candles protected from curious cats!

Virus

The most common reason a cat will sneeze is a respiratory infection, typically caused by feline herpes virus or feline calicivirus. These viruses are highly contagious between cats but, thankfully, cannot be transferred to humans. Treatment involves dealing with the symptoms while your cat fights the virus. Consulting with your veterinarian would be recommended.  If the virus results in a secondary bacterial infection, antibiotics can be prescribed.

Other causes of sneezing

While the reason for sneezing is most likely inhaled irritants or a virus, there are some more rare causes to consider. Your cat could have a tooth root infection that is draining into nasal passages, foreign objects such as grass or some debris on the floor, or even tumors in the nasal passage. 

Your veterinarian will be able to determine if the sneezing and any other symptoms are a sign of something more severe.

What Causes Coughing?

Coughing is a protective reflex that helps rid the respiratory tract of irritants, mucus, and foreign bodies. The reasons your cat may develop a cough range from mild to severe.   An examination with your veterinarian would be recommended to determine the cause of the coughing.

Hairballs

Hairballs happen naturally as a cat grooms itself. As unpleasant as it is to deal with the cleanup, coughing up hairballs removes the compacted fur before it results in a serious intestinal blockage. Coughing as a result of a hairball will disappear once the mass has been expelled.

Upper respiratory infection

A cough may accompany sneezing if there is an infection, especially if there is an excess of mucus. 

Asthma

If coughing is accompanied by wheezing, your cat may have asthma.

Parasitic disease

Is your cat losing weight, not eating, or extremely lethargic? The coughing could be the result of a parasite.

Heart disease

If you notice that your cat is coughing after exercise, it could be a sign of heart disease. 

Lung cancer

Persistent, excessive coughing could be due to a lung tumor; however, there would be other obvious signs if that were the case.

When Should I Be Worried? 

Again, the occasional sneeze or cough is rarely cause for concern. 

It may be time to contact the vet if you notice sneezing or coughing accompanied by:

  • Blood
  • Wheezing 
  • Drooling
  • Fever
  • Decreased appetite/weight loss
  • Anorexia
  • Lethargy
  • Trouble breathing
  • Excessive discharge (may be yellow or green)
  • Diarrhea
  • Depression

It is better to be safe than sorry. If you are not sure whether there is cause for concern, a quick call to your veterinarian will let you know.

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