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Cat Coughing and Gagging: What Does It Mean?

We don’t know about you, but when we hear our Yoda coughing and gagging from across the room, we immediately jump up to see what’s wrong. Sometimes Paul and I arrive just on time to save the carpet, the shoes, the pillow, or whatever else, but other times we’re not so lucky.

“Again?!” I say. Oftentimes, Yoda will cough and gag before throwing up his lunch, or a hairball. Once is okay, and is quite normal for cats, especially if they ate too fast or if they over-groom their long fur. But if Yoda does it several times in a row or throughout the day, we start to worry.

In this article, we will discuss what it means when your cat coughs and gags, or makes other strange noises you didn’t think was possible (seriously, haha). One time before “tossing his cookies”, Yoda warned us by first saying, “meowmeowmeowmeowmeowmeow!!” We had no clue where that noise was coming from until we saw him projectile vomit a foot away!

All laughs aside, in this post we will discuss possible causes of the coughing and gagging and offer some remedies.

Cat coughing and gagging | Fluffy Kitty

Cause #1: Hairballs

The most common reason for why cats cough and gag is because they are regurgitating a hairball. Hairballs are the result of your cat ingesting loose fur while grooming. Some of the ingested hair will pass, but the keratin present in your cat’s fur is indigestible. This is what causes the hair to become a damp clump inside your cat’s stomach.

To relieve themselves of this nasty clump of fur, kitties will start coughing and gagging to eventually get it all out. The result is a cylinder-shape clump of matted fur, in addition to some very (un)pleasant stomach juices.

The coughing and gagging you hear should only last a few seconds. Otherwise, if your cat is coughing, gagging, wheezing, hacking, etc. on a daily basis, then this is a warning sign that they may have a serious gastrointestinal or respiratory problem.

Remedy for hairballs:

To reduce the chance of your cat developing a hairball, make sure to do the following:

  • Comb your cat’s fur daily
  • Vacuum/sweep fur from floor, couch, bedding, etc., once or twice a week
  • Always provide fresh, clean water

Avoid giving your cat commercial laxative or anti-hairball products without first consulting a veterinarian. Though hairballs usually pass normally, on rare occasions they can become severely obstructed requiring immediate medical attention or surgery. If your cat becomes lethargic and is not capable of eating or has vomiting episodes, have him/her examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Cat coughing and gagging | Fluffy Kitty

Cause #2: Respiratory problems

Cat coughing and gagging can also be due to either a simple or severe respiratory problem. Here are a few of the main respiratory problems that could cause your cat to cough.


Asthma is one of the most common types of respiratory problems cats face. In fact, over 800,000 felines in America alone have some form of asthma.

Though the causes underlying your cat’s asthma may vary (from cigarette smoke to pollen, to cat litter dust, etc.), the result is a groggy and reoccurring cough. This cough will not sound like the same type of cough that results from gagging up a hairball.

Asthma is the inflammation of the little passageways in your cat’s lungs. This makes it hard to breathe.

Light cases of asthma will produce a mild-slightly chronic cough.

More serious cases of asthma will have your cat coughing and gagging persistently, and it will sound much more severe. You will also notice additional symptoms such as wheezing, mouth breathing, blue lips and gums, coughing up foamy mucus, among others.

If you suspect that your cat’s cough is due to asthma, it is best get an examination by a veterinarian right away.

Remember: There are other diseases such as heartworm, respiratory parasites (lungworms), pneumonia, and feline bronchitis, that have asthma-like symptoms, including coughing. These can be life-threatening diseases if left untreated. This is why it is so important to get your kitty an appointment with the doc right away.


There is no treatment for asthma, but it is manageable with a proper care routine. In addition to any medication your vet may prescribe, you can optimize your cat’s living environment as to reduce their asthma symptoms:

  • Absolutely no cigarette smoke
  • Reduce environmental stress (loud noises, etc.)
  • Have your cat routinely examined by a vet (for parasites, etc.)
  • Use a good humidifier, especially during winter months
  • Avoid using perfumes, sanitizers, air freshners, etc., around kitty
  • Keep kitty healthily nourished and active!

Cat coughing and gagging | Fluffy Kitty

Cause #3: Gastrointestinal issues

In addition to problems with their respiratory tract, cat’s can also suffer from gastrointestinal issues causing them to cough and gag.

We’ve already tackled hairballs as a number one cause, but there may be some other GI issues your cat has which causes the coughing and gagging symptoms.


Worms can be a pain in the arse (literally).  There are several types of worms a cat can get and though transmission varies, outdoor cats are most prone to catching a worm.

Roundworms are the most common type of parasite cat’s pick up. Kittens can get roundworm from drinking from their infected mother’s milk, while adult cats usually get it from ingesting feces of another infected feline.

Cats can also pick up hookworms, tapeworms, and lungworms.

Symptoms of worms can include:

  • Coughing
    • Trouble breathing
  • Diarrhea
    • Bloody stool,
    • or constipation
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss

In addition to intestinal parasites, cats may also develop a cough from an obstruction in the stomach or intestines. Make sure your cat did not swallow string, rubber bands, or other small items that can get coiled up inside. If you have a doubt, take kitty to the vet immediately!


GI issues such as worms are not treatable on their own. They will require a diagnosis by your veterinarian, followed by a medicinal routine.

To reduce the chance your kitty develops worms, try the following:

  • Reduce the amount of time your cat spends outdoors or keep kitty inside
  • Keep the litter box clean, make sure to practice good hygiene
  • Have regular checkups at the vet

Remember:  Hairballs are not the only cause for coughing in cats.

Other potential causes

Besides the causes listed above, cat’s can develop a cough for the following reasons:

  • Allergies
  • Cancer
  • Fungal lung infection
  • Tight collars
  • Congestive heart failure, pneumonia

What’s important to remember is that if your cat coughs and doesn’t spit up a hairball, s/he may have a more serious issue. Please remember to consult a veterinarian and avoid self-diagnosing your cat as some medications may not be suitable and could end up causing more harm.
Cat coughing and gagging | Fluffy Kitty

Final thoughts: Cat Coughing and Gagging

Hairballs are usually the go-to answer for whenever a cat coughs and gags, but we hope this article has informed you that in fact, coughing in cats does not equate to hairballs — at least not all of the time!

Never hesitate to consult your vet. Your fluffy kitty will thank you for it!

Please do share any question or comment with the FK community. We always enjoy hearing from our furllowers! 🙂