The Coughing Cat
True coughing in cats is rare and may be confused with gagging up hair balls. Coughing in cats is caused mainly by asthma, heart worm infection and lung worms.
ASTHMA is very common in cats. And just like in people it can be life threatening if not managed. Other signs of asthma besides coughing, may be wheezing, increased respiratory rate, labored breathing, exercise intolerance, hiding, decreased activity level. All or only 1 of these signs may be experienced by your cat. Asthma is caused by an allergy to something in the cats environment, such as dust, dust mites, smoke, molds, mildews, grasses, trees, and much more.
Asthma is diagnosed by auscultation of the lungs by a veterinarian, in conjunction with chest radiographs. Asthma is treated by avoidance of the causative agents and by using a combination of the following medications: antihistamines, bronchodilators, and steroids. These medications come in different forms - injectable, oral, transdermal & inhalant.
HEART WORM DISEASE is transmitted to cats by mosquitos. Indoor cats can be exposed when mosquitos get into the house. There are blood tests that can be done to determine if your cat has been exposed to heart worm. The worms cause an allergic reaction in the lungs resulting in SIGNS OF ASTHMA (as described above). These signs show up much sooner in cats than dogs who are infected. It can take years before a dog starts coughing secondary to congestive heart failure caused by the heart worms. Another difference from the infection in dogs, is that there is no treatment to kill the heart worms in cats, like there is in dogs. The only treatment is to treat the asthmatic symptoms and wait for the worms to die over many years. Hopefully, the cat lives longer than the life threatening presence of the heart worms. It is important to note that heart worm infection is PREVENTABLE in cats. There are parasiticides that can prevent infection. My favorite is REVOLUTION, an all around parasiticide for indoor and outdoor cats. It kills fleas, mites, and the brown dog tick, prevents heart worm, and controls intestinal worms. Ask your veterinarian to start your cat on REVOLUTION! IT IS THE BEST!
Lung worms can also cause coughing. Cats become infected when they ingest infected slugs. Diagnosis is made by performing a fecal flotation examination. Treatment with a specific worming agent (fenbendazole) at a specific dosage for a specific amount of time is necessary to clear the infection.