Seeing your cat coughing and hacking can be very disturbing. Although coughing is not always something to be concerned about (such as when a cat is trying to pass a hairball), it is important to distinguish when your cat requires medical attention.

While hairballs are often thought to be the cause of cat’s coughing, it is normal for cats to only cough up a hairball a couple of times per month. Any more than this and it could be a sign of an underlying condition.1

Section BG CurveCreated with Sketch.

What Makes a Cat Cough

When irritants, dust, mucus, or other particles enter the airways, a protective reflex is triggered to try to get rid of them. This reflex is a cough: an attempt to keep the airways clear.2

Coughing in cats can occur for a number of reasons. While a cough isn’t a condition or disease itself, it can be a sign of an underlying problem.

When Should You Be Concerned?

1. Your Cat Is Coughing With No Hairball

If your cat is coughing but no hairball is produced, it is important to pay attention to other symptoms your cat is showing.

Infrequent, but regular coughing (a few times a week or consistently every few weeks) can be a sign of asthma. Your cat may crouch low to the ground with their neck extended upwards—a position that helps your cat get as much air as possible between coughs. Untreated asthma can be life-threatening.

If no hairball is produced, pay attention to if your cat is showing any other signs mentioned on this list.

2. Your Cat Keeps Coughing

If your cat’s cough is persistent, continues for more than a few days, or begins to worsen, take them to the vet. A cough that persists may be an indication of a respiratory infection or asthma.

3. Your Cat Has A Productive (Wet) Cough

If your cat has a wet cough, the coughing will produce phlegm or sputum4. This type of cough will sound moist and can be indicative of a lower respiratory problem.

4. Your Cat’s Cough Is Accompanied By Wheezing

A wheezing noise between coughs could indicate that your cat can’t get enough oxygen to their lungs. Wheezing is produced in the lower airways and occurs when air passageways constrict, and/or when inflammation causes swelling. This could be an indicator of feline asthma.

5. Your Cat Is Coughing And Sneezing

If your cat is sneezing in addition to coughing, it may be a sign of a viral or respiratory infection.5

6. Your Cat Is Losing Weight

If your cat begins to lose weight or has a reduced appetite in addition to the cough, it may be an indication of a parasite or infection.6

7. Your Cat’s Cough Keeps Coming Back

If your cat’s cough is recurrent, take them to the vet to find out what may be causing it to keep coming back. A recurrent cough could be an indicator of allergies or asthma. Asthma is a lifetime condition and symptoms will return if not managed regularly.

8. Your Cat’s Tongue And Gums Are Turning Blue

If your cat’s tongue and gums begin to turn a shade of blue or grey when coughing, it is an indication your cat is not getting enough oxygen7. In this case, take them to the vet immediately.

Should you take your cat to the veterinarian?

Some of the causes of coughing in cats include:

  • Feline asthma
  • Respiratory infections
  • Heartworm
  • Allergies
  • Passing a hairball
  • Other parasitic conditions
  • Disease of the respiratory tract3


A kitten looks curious



Common Conditions That Can Cause Cat Coughing

Cat Asthma

Cat asthma, or feline asthma, is very similar to asthma in humans—it is chronic inflammation of the airways in the lungs. Like in humans, asthma attacks in cats are often triggered by allergens or even stress.

When cats with asthma breathe in allergens, it triggers an immune response that causes inflammation which results in irritation, swelling, and muscular constriction of the airways2. This response leads to mucus accumulation and narrowing of the airways, making it hard for oxygen to reach the lungs. Once this response occurs, it makes it very difficult for the cat to breathe.

Learn More

Feline Upper Respiratory Infection (Cat Flu)

Cat flu is a general term for upper respiratory infections caused by certain feline viruses and bacterial infections. These infections mostly affect the nose and throat.

Cat flu affects cats of all ages and breeds. In most cases, it is viral in nature and highly contagious.

Symptoms of upper respiratory infections in cats include:

  • Lethargy (no energy to play)
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Coughing
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Eye ulcers
  • Loss of appetite
  • Discharge from eyes
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever

Learn More 

Feline Rhinitis

Feline rhinitis is a condition where the lining of the nose (mucous membranes) are inflamed.1 When these tissues become inflamed, breathing becomes much more difficult due to swelling and an increased amount of nasal mucous.

The condition can be short-term and clear up in a few weeks, or can be long-term (chronic) and last for life. Damage of the lining of the nasal passages can also increase the risk of developing a secondary bacterial infection which can worsen symptoms.2

Learn more 


Feline bronchitis affects the lower airways in a cat's lungs. The airways (bronchi) carry inhaled breath filled with oxygen to the alveoli where gas exchange happens. Bronchitis causes the walls of the bronchi to become inflamed, swelling the walls and releasing mucus into the airways. This causes the airways to become narrowed and congested and air can no longer reach the alveoli effectively.

As a result, coughing is triggered as a reflex to help clear the airways. This creates a vicious cough-irritation cycle; an inherent characteristic of bronchitis.

In cats, chronic bronchitis (also known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD) is a long term and irreversible condition that can lead to permanent lung damage.


Diagnosing Your Cat

Understanding the difference in your cat's cough can be important in knowing when to take your cat to the vet. Early identification of symptoms may help  your cat get the help it needs before an attack. Common symptoms of asthma include:

  • heavy/rapid breathing,
  • lethargy, and
  • breathing through the mouth.

If your cat gets low to the ground and extends her neck when coughing, it could be a sign of asthma. Watch the video to see and hear an example of a cat with asthma. 

Does Your Cat Have Asthma?

Take the Feline Asthma Assessment to see if your cat could have asthma.

Take the Quiz Download the Cat Asthma Symptom Tracker

Treatments & Quality of Life

Learn more, download resources, and more.


What To Expect At The Vet’s Office

Before visiting your vet, take note of any other signs or symptoms your cat has shown in addition to the cough. If possible, try to take a video of your cat coughing at home to show the vet. Your vet will want to know as much as possible in order to properly diagnose and treat your pet.

Although relatively common, coughing in cats can be a sign of a more serious issue that can be life-threatening in some cases. If you are unsure if your cat’s cough warrants a visit to the vet, always err on the side of caution and take them regardless.

Does Your Cat Have Asthma?

Take the Feline Asthma Assessment to see if your cat could have asthma.

Take the Quiz

Some questions your vet might ask include:

  • How long have the symptoms been present?
  • Is the cough wet or dry?
  • Have you noticed any other symptoms besides the cough?
  • Does your cat go outside?
  • Is your cat receiving preventative treatment for parasitic worms?
  • Is your cat more lethargic than usual?

1"The Danger of Hairballs" Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.…;2"Is It Normal for Cats To Cough?" Pet Health Network.…;3Ibid. 4Ernest Ward, DVM. "Coughing in Cats" VCA Hospitals. 5"Is It Normal for Cats To Cough?" Pet Health Network.…;6Ibid. 7"Coughing In Cats – Is It Normal For A Cat To Cough?" Cat-World. 8"Why Does My Cat Cough So Much?" WebMD. 9Ernest Ward, DVM. "Coughing in Cats" VCA Hospitals. 10Ibid. 11"Coughing In Cats – Is It Normal For A Cat To Cough?" Cat-World.

Questions or Comments? Get in Touch.

We would love to hear from you. If you have questions or comments about one of our chambers, please reach out to us today.

Contact Us