November 26, 2023

Coughing cats

By Dr Len Paki of Katikati Vets

Over the summer we had several cases of cats brought in to see us because they had started coughing. The owners often describe the cough as anything from occasional to several violent coughs in a row. Most of these cases present as sudden in onset with no warning of ill health beforehand.

It is common for the cats to have stopped coughing by the time they come in and see us.

On admitting the cats, we perform clinical examinations and find that they actually are quite bright and alert and responsive and their main vitals are within the normal range. Listening with the stethoscope we find that the lungs are quiet and normal. When we listen to the windpipe we can occasionally hear breathing sounds louder here than in the lungs.

Gentle pressure on the windpipe below their chin may result in a little exaggerated swallowing but not much more. This finding however can give us a clue to the problem.

We then sedate the cat and open the mouth and draw the tongue gently forward as well as lifting the soft palate up and behind the soft palate we find a strand of grass. This grass has become trapped back here right next to the voice box which is very sensitive and the grass triggers a cough/gag response.

The grass often is bunched up into a tight ball of grass or can be extended straight and as such can be right up above the soft palate and into the back of the nose of the cat. Occasionally the cough then is joined by a sneeze as the grass reaches this area and the grass blade may even protrude out through a nostril!

The removal of the grass is carried out by gently drawing it backwards from behind the soft palate using suitable retrieval instruments. It not recommended to pull grass blades out of the nostrils as they can break in half.

What our best friend is displaying is often seen around summertime and is understandably very worrying to owners.

We can’t be certain why cats chew on grass, just that it is a widespread habit. Some suggest that it is to boost nutrient levels , act as a laxative, or that cats just like the taste and texture .

The main concern is any contaminants like sprays that are on the grass that may harm the cats, so being mindful especially around the home when doing any kind of plant/lawn spraying.

Whyever they do it we have seen the effects in quite a few recently and will continue to do so.

Of course there are other reasons for coughing in cats so anytime your cat displays a cough behaviour contact your Vet. This is just an unusual condition that I thought I would make mention of as an example of an interesting condition.