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Dr. Deb
Dr. Deb, Cat Veterinarian
Category: Cat
Satisfied Customers: 10921
Experience:  I have been a practicing veterinarian for over 30 years.
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My 13 year old tabby has been gagging once every day, in an

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My 13 year old tabby has been gagging once every day, in an alarming way, since january. She is rarely sick and eats, purrs, and is her usual self... should I would be worried?

Hello Miriam, I'm Dr. Deb and I'll do my best to help you today.

I'm sorry for this concern for Nelly. I do have a few additional questions to ask about her first, if you don't mind:

1. Does she produce anything when she gags? Mucous or food or hair?
2. Sometimes it's difficult to tell the difference between vomiting and coughing. Would you say her behavior more closely resembles one or the other?
3. No weight loss, correct?
4. Any change in her diet?
5. Have you had her seen for this condition?

There may be a slight delay after I receive your answers since I have to type up a response to you. Thanks for your patience. Deb


Customer: replied 4 years ago.

OCCASIONALLY SHE PRODUCES FOOD, OR JUST MUCOUS! Mainly nothing! I think she is coughing more than gagging.No change in diet or behaviour or weight other than we have always been best friends and she has always followed me everywhere, a little more now maybe!

Thanks so much for the additional information.

An occasional gagging with food or mucous produced wouldn't concern me too much since it doesn't take much to trigger this reflex in a cat. There could be any number of possible causes such as late onset inflammatory bowel disease or rapid ingestion of food or a hairball problem.
And, since it's doesn't happen very often, then this is less reason to be terribly worried about it.

However, coughing can sometimes be a little different since this isn't something that a cat typically does. And, unfortunately, there could be a number of possible causes for it, ranging from not too terribly serious to possibly more worrisome.

1. Feline Asthma is a very common cause of coughing in a cat. This condition is similar to that seen in a human where there is inflammation in the lungs which is triggered by something in the environment such as pollens, smoke, aerosol sprays, etc.

This is often a somewhat difficult diagnosis to make. Chest x-rays might be suggestive as would bloodwork (eosinophils might be elevated but they aren't in every case). I often diagnose this condition based on a cat's response to steroids. If they are 100% better, then this is the diagnosis. It may seem like a crude way to diagnose this condition, but if I rule out other possible reasons for the signs first (see below)then I don't worry about side effects from steroids.
This LINK discusses this condition in detail.

2. Bacterial infections such as Bordetella or mycoplasma infections can also cause a cat to cough and are equally difficult to diagnose in some cases. If I suspect that this might be the cause, (especially if she's an outside cat), then I'll dispense Doxycycline 5 mg/kg twice a day to rule them out.

3. If Nelly is an outside cat, then lung worm is a possibility. This is a parasite that is most often diagnosed with a fecal sample. One effective treatment would be panacur.

4. Heartworm disease. This disease is transmitted by mosquitoes and depending on where you live, may be a possibility. We do have a test for this which is often done in a vet's office. Unfortunately, we don't have an effective treatment for it in cats. This disease is different in a cat than in a dog and the coughing is related to inflammation in the lungs.
Steroids can be used to treat this inflammation. This LINK discusses this condition.

5. Heart disease. These cats usually have other signs in addition to coughing such as weight loss or exercise intolerance. Stress might trigger a worsening of the condition. A chest x-ray can be useful in determining if there is an enlarged heart or fluid in the chest but ultrasound is usually needed to determine the exact diagnosis.

Some cats can develop esophagitis which can sound somewhat similar to coughing but isn't exactly vomiting either. If you think she might have this condition, you could safely give her over the counter Pepcid AC, 1/4th of a 10 mg tablet twice a day.


I hope this helps and gives you an idea of the many possible explanations for her behavior. I wish I could narrow the list down for you but, unfortunately, there are just too many possible reasons for her behavior.


But, should be too worried? I wouldn't be at this point because she's not otherwise acting ill. Deb

Dr. Deb and other Cat Specialists are ready to help you

Hello Miriam,

I’m just following up on our conversation about Nelly. How are things going with her? Deb