Cat Wheezing: What Is It, Why Does It Happen, and Does It Warrant a Visit to the Vet?
Learn about everything from potential causes to treatment options, according to veterinarians.
While in some cases a wheezing cat isn't cause for concern, it's often indicative of an underlying health issue. "When a cat is wheezing, it can be a sign of stress, discomfort, or due to more severe concerns, such as respiratory or cardiovascular issues," explains Dr. Seth Bishop, a veterinarian at Small Door Veterinary.
So, how can a pet parent determine whether or not this warrants a trip to the vet? "If pet owners notice their cat is wheezing, coughing, or showing any signs of labored or difficulty in breathing, they should contact their veterinarian immediately," says Dr. Ann Morrison, DVM, MS, DACVIM at Banfield Pet Hospital. "Sometimes, it can be difficult for pet owners to tell the difference between wheezing, coughing, and a cat coughing up a hairball, so video-taping the episode to show their veterinarian can potentially help with the diagnosis."
Interested in learning more about causes cat wheezing, and what do to when it occurs? We asked Dr. Bishop and Dr. Morrison to share their insight, and here's what they had to say.
Know what causes wheezing in cats.
If there's a foreign body or irritant trapped in a cat's nose, larynx, windpipe, or lungs, Dr. Bishop says it can cause wheezing. However, wheezing can also be the sign of a much larger health issue. "Along with respiratory infections, such as asthma or pneumonia, wheezing can also be the sign of a cardiovascular issue," he says. "Wheezing may indicate abnormalities with the heart or large vessels associated with it, which is why it's best to have an evaluation with your veterinarian—there are several diagnostic options available."
Know what's normal.
Like it or not, Dr. Morrison says no amount of wheezing should ever be considered normal. "Cat owners should contact their veterinarian at the first sign of wheezing," she says. "While some cats might wheeze due to a hairball or throat irritant, it could also be a sign of an underlying health issue that requires medical attention. Veterinarians can rule out potential causes and recommend the appropriate diagnostic and treatment options for cats."
Know when to see a veterinarian.
Not only is wheezing uncomfortable for your cat, but it can also indicate an underlying health issue, which is why Dr. Bishop says you should contact a vet as soon as it starts. "You should see a vet as soon as you notice wheezing," he advises. "If you notice wheezing, but your cat is otherwise acting normally, you should have them seen within 24 hours. If, in addition to wheezing, your cat is coughing, lethargic, inappetent, you should have them evaluated that day, and if you notice any open-mouth breathing in your cat, or increased respiratory rate or effort, you should have them evaluated immediately since these indicate signs of respiratory distress."
Treatment options for cat wheezing.
Depending on the cause, Dr. Morrison says there are several different treatment options available for a wheezing cat. "Some treatment options may include a bronchodilator or steroid inhaler for asthma, anti-parasitics for a parasite infection or anti-viral medications for a respiratory virus," she explains. "Time is of the essence, since some treatments may need to be started right away, such as medications to stabilize and reverse an allergic reaction, or oxygen therapy for cats with severe asthma."
How to provide in-home support for a wheezing cat.
Just like it is for human beings, your cat's asthma can be triggered by environmental allergens, which is why Dr. Bishop says using air purifiers and low-dust litters at home may help ease wheezing in cats with certain respiratory issues. "Limit or avoid the use of certain candles or scented sprays, as these too can lead to wheezing and asthma-like signs," he says. "Also, maintaining a healthy weight in your cat can help with asthma and other diseases."