We all know that cats are independent creatures. But, we still like to cuddle and spoil our feline friends as though they’re our own children. Cats might not be as dependent or obedient as dogs, but we still adore them and their mysterious ways.

Cats rarely show pain or discomfort. So, if you notice that your pet kitty is showing a clear sign or symptom of pain, a sneeze, or an abnormal cough, you’ll be on high alert.

“Why is my cat sneezing and coughing?!”

In this article, we’ll be delving into the potential symptoms and causes of your cat’s cough – and what you can do about it.

Read on for helpful information, advice, and resources to help you take care of your beloved feline friend.

What Irritants Can Cause My Cat To Cough?

My Cat Has Cough

Cats have a sharp sense of smell. Studies of cat genes suggest that they might actually have a better sense of smell than dogs.

This is hard to prove because cats don’t follow orders. They may be better equipped to sniff out an animal or even a bomb, but getting them to do this on command is highly unlikely – if you know cats as I do.

Cats’ sensitive noses pick up strange smells and irritants in the air, just as dogs would, and maybe even better. So what can cause your cat to start coughing?

Common irritants include:

  • Cigarette smoke
  • Perfume
  • Cleaning products
  • Pollen
  • Household sprays
  • Mould
All of these irritants DO sound very harmful – but it also makes sense that they’d be harmful to cats, or any animal, because they can affect humans, too.

Protecting your cat from these irritants is as simple as:

IrritantPrevention
Cigarette smokeDon’t smoke near your cat – you wouldn’t smoke near your kids, right?
PerfumeBe aware of how your powerful Chanel fragrance affects your cat’s sensitive nose and avoid snuggling them straight after you’ve spritzed your favorite scent.
Cleaning productsTry to use natural cleaning products that use gentle ingredients and scents.
PollenKeep track of whether your cat coughs or sneezes more in different seasons and how they react to your houseplants.
Household spraysAre those strong-smelling room diffusers necessary? Consider using all-natural household sprays that are more gentle on your pet’s nose.
MouldTurns out mold is as harmful to your fur-baby as it is to your own health! Check for signs of mold in your cat’s favorite spots and clean them regularly.

But there is one powerful irritant causing your cat to cough that you might not have realized yet.

Kitty Litter – The Cause Of Cat Cough That People Don’t Think About

Cat Litter Causes Cough
Clay scoop cat litter could easily be the reason why your cat is coughing. If you notice that your cat is coughing or sneezing after pawing that dusty litter, it might be time for a change.

Scoopable kitty litter that smells like flowers might be nice for a house-proud owner – but it can be irritating and harmful for your cat.

But have you noticed the cloud of dust every time you scoop? This is what your cat is breathing in every time they scratch the litter pan after a potty break.

Turns out there are a few types of cat litter that are far more suitable as alternatives to the cough-inducing dust clay litter.

Type of litterWhy it’s better than dusty clay litter
Dust-free scoopableLook for one with natural ingredients.
Wood pelletsTypically found at your local farm or hardware store. Horse bedding pellets work well because they have no chemicals, just wood shavings.
Silica gel litterSilica is totally dust-free and it’s super light and absorbent. Plus – it’s more aesthetically pleasing to look at.

Today, there’s an endless amount of products to choose from, and you don’t have to buy the most expensive to aid in your cat’s lung health.

What Causes A Cat To Cough (And What Does It Sound Like?)

Common Causes of Cat Cough

Next, we’ll go through the most common causes of cat cough and what they sound like. This will help you identify your kitty’s symptoms and know what might be causing your precious animal to sound unwell.

Here are the most common cat cough sounds and the illnesses that cause them:

Cat Cough SoundCat Cough Cause
Dry cough and sneezeKennel Cough, Feline herpes, Feline calicivirus
Gagging, retching coughRoundworms, Tapeworms
Wheezing coughHeartworm, Asthma

Pay close attention to what your cat’s cough sounds like, as this will help you diagnose potential problems and find a solution.

Dry Cough and Sneeze in Cats

Dry Cat Cough

Kennel Cough, Feline Herpes & Feline Calicivirus

If your cat has a dry cough accompanied by sneezing and a runny nose, it’s possible that they have kennel cough.

Bordetella bronchiseptica is the most common bacteria for upper respiratory infections in cats,

There’s that nasty Bordetella Bronchiseptica, to ruin everyone’s good time. Yes, cats can catch kennel cough the same way dogs can, but it is rare.

Kennel cough in cats is rare because they are not boarded or in close contact with other cats in the same way that dogs are.

Cat’s anti-social characteristics help them to limit their exposure to wickedly infectious upper respiratory infections.

However, it is possible for cats to contract kennel cough.

Treatment for kennel cough in cats includes:

  • Antibiotics
  • Rest
  • Healthy nutrition and hydration
  • Isolation from other animals and immunocompromised humans

Feline Herpes

There are two viruses that cause the majority of upper respiratory infections in cats:

  1. Feline Herpesvirus (Feline Herpesvirus Type-1)
  2. Feline Calicivirus (Feline Calicivirus (FCV)

If your cat has a dry cough and sneeze, it could be showing symptoms of feline herpes.

It is reported that 97% of cats will encounter the herpes virus at some point in their lives. Luckily, there is a core vaccine for cats that can be given as early as eight weeks to protect your precious kitty from the virus.

Feline herpes virus is also known as Feline Rhinotracheitis in the clinical world. Rhinotracheitis is transmitted to unvaccinated cats at an early age. Like the human herpes virus, this virus is lifelong and can cause intermittent bouts of:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Conjunctivitis or “pink eye.”

Conjunctivitis is the most common and worst symptom of feline herpes, causing redness, discomfort, and swelling to the eyelid membranes. Gooey and runny eyes will be apparent during these outbreaks.

Feline Herpes Virus is transferred via:

  • Direct contact with saliva, or ocular and nasal discharge
  • Sharing contaminated toys, food, and water bowls
  • Clothing
  • Bedding
  • Furniture

As you might have gathered, FHV is incredibly contagious; luckily, there is a vaccine available that will protect cats for the most part. 

Cats can live with the virus. It lies inactive much of the time and flairs up due to stress or trauma. The infection is the most contagious in its incubation period of 2-5 days. The symptoms of this infection are present for 10 – 20 days.

Cats who are born from a cat with Feline Herpes Virus will most likely have the disease as well. If you have a cat with FHV, consider spaying or neutering as not to pass on the virus to future generations.

Treatment for Feline Herpes Virus

As stated above, this infection is lifelong and cannot be cured. However, symptoms can be treated accordingly during outbreaks to lessen inflammation and discomfort. These include:

  1. Antiviral eye drops
  2. Antiviral medications
  3. Antibiotics

Feline Calicivirus

Unlike some other viruses, Calicivirus is limited to cats. Calicivirus is a virus causing upper respiratory infections in cats much like herpesvirus.

What Are The Symptoms of Calicivirus?

If your cat has a dry cough, look out for these additional symptoms pointing to Calicivirus:

  • Runny nose and eyes
  • Tongue ulcers that can be painful and cause drooling
  • Conjunctivitis or irritation and inflammation of the eyelids
  • Fever
How Is Calicivirus Spread?

Like other culprits of upper respiratory infections, Calicivirus is very contagious. It is an airborne disease that can be transferred via:

  • Direct contact
  • Contact with eye and nasal secretions
  • Contaminated toys, food and water bowls, and bedding
Calicivirus Treatment

A mild calicivirus infection can be treated symptomatically from home with rest, good nutrition, hydration, and isolation.

If your cat develops a fever, severe lethargy, or loss of appetite, consult your veterinarian.

Gagging, Retching Cough – Roundworms & Tapeworms

Hearing your beloved feline gagging and retching can be cause for confusion and alarm – is it a hairball, or something more sinister?

High-pitched gagging coughs in cats can be caused by upper airway irritation from parasites like roundworms and tapeworms.

Don’t panic, it’s quite common for a cat to ingest a parasite or two throughout its life. But, it can be tricky to spot these symptoms and start treatment to rid your fur-baby of worms in their gut.

The two most common parasites in cats are:

  • Roundworms
  • Tapeworms

Tapeworms in CatsSource

Roundworms

Roundworms are the most common parasite in cats. There is an array of roundworms out there, yet most are specific to a particular host. If you were wondering, there are roundworms for humans, hooray!

Roundworms are disgusting little suckers that attach themselves to the cat’s intestinal wall. Although roundworms are not particularly harmful to healthy cats, they can be life-threatening to older, immunosuppressed cats or kittens with underdeveloped immune systems.

But, regardless, if you suspect that your cat has worms – they need to go to the vet so they can be treated.

How Do Cats Get Roundworm?

Although cats don’t eat poop and other repulsive things like dogs do, they can still contract roundworms from catching and eating rodents that are infested with them.

Cats can also be born with roundworms if their mother had them when she was nursing or pregnant. They can be transferred through the placenta and breast milk!

Sadly, the poor kitten doesn’t stand a chance, so if you’re planning to breed from your female cat, make sure she’s completely worm-free.

Tapeworms

Tapeworms are incredibly repulsive. They are long, white, flatworms. Tapeworms are segmented and reproduce by shedding their segments which are chock-full of eggs. Isn’t that just disgusting?

Tapeworms latch onto your cat’s small intestine and take its nutrients. They are rarely fatal – it’s not in the tapeworm’s best interests to kill the host that keeps them alive.

This makes it incredibly difficult to spot the symptoms of tapeworm. If your cat has a cough, this might be a sign.

But, often, cats will be asymptomatic, and you won’t even notice they have tapeworms until you see the live eggs wiggling around in the cat’s feces.

How Do Cats Get Tapeworms?

It’s a gross process, but we won’t spare you the details.

Flea larvae eat tapeworms – fleas jump onto your cat’s fur – your cat ingests a flea while grooming – your cat now has tapeworms.

Tapeworms in CatsSource

Tapeworms inside your cat can grow up to several inches – gross!

Treatment for Roundworms & Tapeworms

There are simple ways to treat your cat for roundworm. First things first, get to the vet!

Your veterinarian will prescribe a dewormer for your cat. To make things easier, they may administer it for you.

Since roundworm treatment doesn’t kill the younger forms of roundworm, several doses may be required intermittently until the cat expels all of them once and for all.

Wheezing cough – Heartworm & Asthma

Wet or Wheezing Cough in CatsIf your cat’s cough is ‘wheezy’ you’re bound to be wondering what’s wrong with them. Can they breathe alright? How can you help them?

A wet rattling or high-pitched “whistling” sound while inhaling is a wheezing cough, which can be caused by:

  1. Heartworm, or
  2. Asthma

Heartworm

Heartworm is an especially worrying cause of coughing in cats.

It’s caused by a parasitic worm that is spread via mosquitoes and burrows into your cat’s arteries, causing your cat to cough and have difficulty breathing (hence the wheezing).

Heartworm is very rare in cats and far more common in dogs. But, it is still possible, so don’t rule out heartworm if your cat is wheezing and coughing incessantly.

Treatment for Heartworm

Of course, prevention is always ideal, but in the case that your cat develops heartworm, the treatment will be a combination of prevention and medication based on symptoms.

When dogs get heartworm they can be treated with an arsenic-based medication – yeah, it’s that serious. This method of eradication is too dangerous for cats.

Instead of the harsh arsenic eradicator, veterinarians take a different route for cats:

  • Steroids are given to reduce inflammation and to minimize the formation of clots or thrombosis
  • Your veterinarian will prescribe a preventative heartworm medication to kill the chance of reproduction.
  • A cat will be monitored for allergic reactions to preventative
  • Adult heartworms will die within 2-3 years of living in their host

If the condition is monitored and preventatives and steroids are given regularly and consistently, the cat can fully recover after the adult heartworms have died. Some residual damage may be apparent. Asthma may be a side effect of the damage done to the lungs and pulmonary artery.

Feline Asthma

Feline asthma affects more cats than you might think. It can be easily misdiagnosed as an unproductive hairball cough. Feline asthma is a lower respiratory system disease that affects 1% – 5% of cats.

Asthma is often a reaction to allergies in cats, causing mild to severe inflammation and irritation of the airways.

Asthma can develop in cats whose lungs have been damaged by diseases like heartworm, Feline Herpesvirus, and Feline Calicivirus.

Symptoms of feline asthma include:
  1. Wheezing
  2. Hacking
  3. Difficulty breathing
  4. Vomiting

The asthma cough is a bit different in that it has its own characteristics. Cats will extend their necks out in front of them while in a crouched position. They may also cough with their tongue out.

Feline Asthma Treatment

Veterinarians will prescribe a corticosteroid to reduce inflammation of the airway to improve breathing. This method works well since most of the irritation comes from the inflammation of the airway.

Cat Cough Causes, Symptoms & Treatments [Guide]

Cat Cough Symptoms

To summarize, we’ve compiled all of the above information into a handy table to help you identify the symptoms, cause, and potential treatment plan for your coughing cat.

AilmentSymptomsTreatment
Feline upper respiratory infections caused by:

  • Bordetella
  • Feline Herpes Virus
  • Feline Calicivirus.
  • Dry cough
  • Sneezing
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Nasal secretions
  • Ulcers of the eyes
  • Fever
Rest, hydration, nutrition, antibiotics, cough suppressants.

Isolation from other animals

Severe cases may need to be hospitalized with intravenous fluids.

Allergies
  • Sneezing
  • Dry cough
  • Itchy skin
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Snoring
Remove irritants like dusty cat litter.

Avoid smoking around your animals.

Use natural and non-toxic cleaning products.

Keep surroundings clean and as close to dust-free as possible

Parasites:

  • Roundworm
  • Tapeworm
  • Wet, wheezing, rattling cough
  • Worms or larvae “cucumber seeds” in feces
Parasites are stubborn and will not leave on their own, therefore vet intervention is crucial.

Luckily, a slight infection can be resolved pretty painlessly with a one-time wormer that will kill eggs and larvae.

Heartworm/Heart Disease
  • Wet, wheezing, rattling cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Can cause thrombosis
Vet intervention is crucial if you suspect heartworms.

A medical management plan of steroids and preventative heartworm meds.

Feline Asthma
  • Wheezing cough due to inflammation in the lower respiratory system
Corticosteroids to reduce inflammation of the airway.

Conclusion

Wheezing Cat Cough & Sneezing

We hope this helps you identify what your cat’s cough sounds like, what might be causing it, and what steps need to be taken to bring them back to health.

If your cat is coughing, sneezing, or seems uncomfortable, and you suspect any of the above infections and ailments – take them to the vet.

At the end of the day, your veterinarian is the expert who can diagnose and treat your cat quickly and accurately.