Worsening Cough in a Senior Cat

Severe Disease is a Dangerous Possibility


We have a 14 year old cat (Sam) who has recently been coughing as if he trying to cough up a hairball.  It comes and goes, but is happening regularly now – about 4 or 5 times a day; after a few minutes he just stops. Is there something more serious happening here? Is it just a hairball?


Dr. Nichol:

Sam’s body is sending you important signals. Coughing in cats can be a sign of severe distress. At age 14 there are several problems that may be responsible, any one of which could kill your boy.


The worsening of Sam’s coughing is alarming. He could have infection, asthma, heartworm disease, foreign material like a foxtail awn lodged in his throat or lungs, congestive heart failure, parasites, or even cancer. Some cats cough because their violent attempts to wretch and vomit causes inflammation in their lungs, meaning that Sam’s problem may actually be in his stomach or intestines. A hairball is unlikely.


Your cat needs an exam, lab profile, stool evaluation, ECG and chest x-rays. A heartworm test is essential-many feline cases get overlooked. If nothing conclusive is found, an endoscopic procedure can rule out diseases of his gastrointestinal tract.


Depending on what’s causing Sam’s coughing medications are likely to help him feel better. Part of his treatment may involve antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, or cough suppressants. Severely asthmatic cats can also benefit from an Aerocat inhaler. I wish I could promise you a simple solution but helping your kitty may get complicated. You need to get him the help he needs soon.