by Dr. Karen Geissert, D.V.M.
Q: My six-year-old female cat has been coughing for the last six weeks and seems to have some trouble breathing. Could the problem just be due to hairballs?
A: Your cat’s cough might be due to hairballs but could also be caused by kennel cough, pneumonia or asthma. Cats can be exposed to a bacterial organism that is frequently associated with kennel cough. While this condition appears to be more prominent in dogs, it can also be transmitted from dog to cat or cat to cat. People may unknowingly transmit the bacteria from another infected pet to a cat or dog via their hands, clothing or shoes.
Your cat could be coughing because she has pneumonia. Cats with pneumonia may act sick, have a fever and have trouble breathing. As with humans, this is a serious condition that requires medical attention.
Another possible cause for your cat’s symptoms is asthma. Cats appear to suffer a higher incidence of asthma than dogs. It may start in a subtle way but can become life threatening if severe flare-ups occur. Cats with respiratory difficulty may not be eating as well as usual or may stop eating entirely if their respiratory distress is severe. Cats that are having severe asthma symptoms may appear to be distressed, show open-mouth breathing, or have bluish gum color. Owners may hear their cat wheeze just as human asthma patients do. Asthma may be triggered by spring and fall allergy seasons when airborne allergens are particularly more problematic. Owners may first see a problem in their cats during one season, but then see the same symptoms in another season over time.
Any abnormal symptom that you continually observe in your pet is a sign that your pet needs medical care. Since the coughing has recently emerged and has now become chronic, it is important that your veterinarian examines your pet, takes some radiographs to look at her lungs, and do some blood tests. Once a diagnosis is made, appropriate treatment can be started that will help give your cat some relief.
Karen Geissert, D.V.M., owner of Acton Animal Hospital, has practiced veterinary medicine for over 30 years. Questions for her may be submitted to ActonAnimalHospital@comcast.net.