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Why Is My Cat Wheezing? Should I Worry? (Vet Answer)

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	Dr. Joanna Woodnutt Photo

Written by

Dr. Joanna Woodnutt

MRCVS, Veterinarian

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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It can be distressing to see your cat wheezing, however it is not always a cause for immediate concern. Here, we go over the common causes of cats wheezing and when you should seek help from a vet.

What is wheezing?

First, it is important to know if your cat is in fact wheezing. Wheezing in cats sounds similar to that in humans. It might sound like rattling or whistling whilst your cat is breathing in and out, or like they are trying to bring up a hairball. It is important to note that coughing or retching sound different and are more harsh sounds like a human cough or gagging sound and could have different causes.

Wheezing in cats usually means that there is something going on in their airways. There are a few different things that could be the cause, from harmless to more severe.

What can cause wheezing?

Now you have identified that your cat is wheezing, what could be causing it? There are many possible causes, and, in most cases, you will need your vet to help find out what they are.

Hairballs

The first thing to look for when you hear you cat wheeze is if it is trying to bring up a hairball. Hairballs are formed in the stomach from hairs collected when your cat grooms himself. They then start to irritate the stomach so are vomited up. They are common but if your cat is getting hairballs often, you can talk to your vet about preventative measures. If your cat is wheezing with no hairball making an appearance, there might be something else going on.

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Feline asthma

Feline asthma is a common cause of wheezing in cats. It can be triggered by allergens or stress, but some cats are also genetically predisposed. Like asthma in humans, it is not treatable but can be managed with medication. Other symptoms of feline asthma are struggled breaths, sleepiness, blue-tinted gums, and mucus around the mouth. If you suspect feline asthma in your cat, you should call your vet immediately.

Foreign object

Your cat might be wheezing because he has something caught in his throat. This could be hair, part of a toy, food, or a household object. A vet will be able to look down your cat’s throat to visualize and remove an object, but you should act quickly if you can see your cat it struggling to breathe.

Respiratory infection

A respiratory infection is a disease of the airways and is sometimes called cat flu. Much like a human cold, it can cause wheezing, coughing, sneezing, and fever. Your vet can diagnose cat flu and advise further treatment.

Parasites

Parasites could be the cause of wheezing in your cat. Heartworms and lungworms are parasitic worms that can cause symptoms such as wheezing sounds, coughing, and weight loss. Your vet can carry out further tests to see if your cat is infected with either parasite.

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Heart problems

Cats can have difficulties breathing when there is a problem with their heart. Heart failure causes fluid to build up around the lungs. This makes it difficult to breathe and could cause your cat to be wheezing. It is normally accompanied with a reluctance to exercise and lethargy. A vet can do further tests such as an x-ray to decide if it is a cardiac problem causing the wheezing and advise further treatment.

Obesity and breed

Obese cats have more pressure on their airways, which can cause them to struggle to breathe clearly. Flat-faced (brachycephalic) breeds – such as Persian, Burmese, and Himalayan – are more susceptible to breathing difficulties, as their noses are narrow and short.

If your cat is wheezing when sleeping, it could be that his weight or face structure is making it difficult for his airways to stay completely open. It is therefore important to keep an eye on your cat’s weight – your vet can give you advice on how to keep this in check.

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Cancer and other growths

Like humans, cats can get tumors in their lungs and airways which could be making it difficult to breathe. Some growths could be benign, meaning that they don’t spread and cause further damage, however others can be more serious. An x-ray at the vets will help to determine if there is any abnormal growth in your cat’s airways.

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When should I be worried?

Your cat wheezing might not be any cause for concern; however, it is important to see a vet to find out what is causing it and treat if necessary.

If you see any of the following symptoms alongside the wheezing, you should call your vet immediately.

  • Struggling to take breaths
  • Coughing or choking
  • Very pale or blue-tinted gums
  • Dribbling/mucus pooling in the mouth
  • Signs of distress (asthma attack)
  • Prolonged wheezing
  • Very lethargic
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Treatment

When you take your cat to the vets for wheezing, the vet will first check him all over for any other signs of ill health and listen to his lungs with a stethoscope. Your vet will then go through a series of tests to rule out possible causes. These could include a blood test, x-ray, and fecal egg count. From the results of various tests, your vet will be able to diagnose and suggest a suitable treatment plan.

Managing Feline Asthma

Feline asthma is a common reason for wheezing in cats. Like in humans, there is no cure, but there are many ways that we can manage it. Your vet will advise you on medicine which will help to ease the wheeziness of your cat – these can usually be given through an inhaler, tablet, or injection. Some feline asthma is triggered by things in the environment. You may find that limiting your cat’s exposure to smoke, aerosols, and dusty cat litter ease his symptoms.

Many cats live with feline asthma – with the help of your vet, your feline friend should be able to live a happy and comfortable life.

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Conclusion

So, your cat may be wheezing for a number of different reasons. The main thing is to let your vet know and they can work with you and your cat from there to find the source of the problem. Remember, no question is too silly, and a vet will be more than happy to help.

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