Coughing is one of the more common reasons why a cat is brought to the veterinary office. Coughing is, however, a very general sign being simply the body’s reflex response to an irritating stimuli in the respiratory system. To pinpoint the cause of the coughing is challenging. Alas, veterinarians cannot ask their questions directly to their cat patients, therefore, the inputs of an observant pet owner is very valuable!
When a pet cat starts coughing, it is a wise thing to do as “pet parents” to observe and record certain details about the cough as it could be very helpful to your veterinarian. So, what are the things to look out for?
First, how did the cough start? Coughs that start suddenly may indicate upper respiratory tract infections, foreign bodies, inflammation of the airways in the lungs or the lungs itself. Coughing that has gradual onset but persists for a longer period may point to immune-mediated disease conditions or parasitic problems among other things.
Second, try to observe what brings on the coughing. Coughing after running could be due to a collapsed or compressed windpipe (trachea), a disease of the heart, or liquid accumulating in the lungs. Coughing after eating may be due to a disease of the voicebox (larynx) or the food pipe (esophagus). Coughing after purring may be something as simple as an inhaled irritant that may progress to more serious conditions of the lungs if left unchecked.
Third, the time when coughing is observed can likewise give clues as to the cause of the cough. Coughing that occurs more frequently at night may indicate a heart disease, fluid in the lungs or a collapsing windpipe. Coughing that occurs in irregular intervals throughout the day may be due to inflammation of the airways or allergic conditions.
Fourth, note the characteristic of the cough. When the cat coughs up mucus, it may be due to infectious agents like bacteria and viruses or irritating and toxic substances or small foreign bodies inhaled. When the coughing is dry, it may be a hairball stuck in the throat, heart disease, a collapsing windpipe among other conditions that may be suspected.
Fifth, taking notice of other associated symptoms can also be very helpful. Note if the coughing is accompanied by sneezing, red watery eyes, extension of the neck, difficulty breathing, decreased appetite and activity, vomiting and anything else you may have observed.
These information that you can relate to your veterinarian during your office visit with your cat can be very useful to assist in the decision making process as to which further steps and tests are necessary to be able to arrive at the correct diagnosis.