Ask the Cat Doc: Coughing Cat, Cat with Bad Breath, and More

Ask-the-Cat-Doc-with-Dr.-Lynn-Bahr

Welcome to our regular “Ask the Cat Doc With Dr. Lynn Bahr” segment! Once a month, Dr. Bahr answers as many of your questions as she can, and you can leave new questions for her in a comment.

Dr. Bahr graduated from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine in 1991. Unlike most veterinarians, she did not grow up knowing that she would become a veterinarian. “It was a cat who got me interested in the practice and I am forever grateful to him,” said Dr. Bahr. Over the course of her veterinary career, Dr. Bahr found that the lifestyle of cats has changed dramatically. As the lifestyle of cats has changed, so did Dr. Bahr’s client education. In addition to finding medical solutions, she also encourages owners to enrich their home environments so that their cats can live long, happy, and healthy lives.

This new understanding led Dr. Bahr to combine her passion for strengthening the human-animal bond with her veterinary background and knowledge of what animals need and want to start her own solution-based cat product company, Dezi & Roo, inspired by two cats of the same names.

For more information about Dezi & Roo and their unique and innovative cat toys, please visit Dezi and Roo on Etsy.

Do you have a question for Dr. Bahr?
Leave it in a comment and she’ll answer it in next month’s column!

Non-productive, deep cough

Question for Dr. Bahr – My 9 year old tabby has a non-productive, deep guttural cough. It was nearly daily Feb-April, then stopped, then started again a couple of weeks ago. My local vet said she doesn’t have any apparent signs of disease and gave me a cough suppressant, which I gave her once and she immediately through up, but the coughing subsided so I didn’t pursue it further. The latest bout is much less pronounced, not as sustained and I’ve only heard it in the morning. Any clues or more pertinent questions I can ask my vet? – Doris Cramer

Hi Doris,

I appreciate you writing in about your coughing cat and thank you for being concerned about it. Coughing is not normal and always demands further work-up. That is because effective treatment depends on the diagnosis.

So, let’s talk about why cats cough.

Coughing is a symptom of an underlying medical condition and there are many that are known to cause cats to cough. Common ones include asthma, lung worms, heartworms, bronchitis, bacterial or viral infections, and to a lesser degree heart disease and tumors. Fortunately, most of these problems are treatable.

I ask my clients to catch the coughing episodes on video if possible. It is always beneficial for me to see exactly what these coughing spells look like. Getting a good history regarding frequency is necessary as well. Hopefully your cat is on heartworm prevention which would eliminate heartworms and other parasites as a possible culprit.  If not, then a fecal and heartworm test would be warranted. Even though these tests give limited information and negative results aren’t that useful, a positive one would certainly help point us in the right direction. If the results are negative, then regular heartworm prevention and a broad spectrum deworming that is effective against lungworms would be indicated.

Next, I would request chest x-rays and routine bloodwork to help fill in more pieces of the puzzle. One of the best ways to try to determine why your cat is coughing is with x-rays and it really is a necessary diagnostic for evaluating the lungs and chest cavity. The findings would then direct us to the proper treatment options.

If asthma is suspected, a short course of steroids is often prescribed to help decrease inflammation and alleviate the cough. We use inhalant treatments if long term therapy is needed after that. Infections are typically managed with antibiotics and viral infections with anti-viral medications. Antihistamines for allergies and bronchodilators to open up airways are other possible ways of reducing symptoms. There are multiple treatment options for cats that cough, but again, it is important to obtain an accurate diagnosis in order to determine the proper course of therapy.

If your current veterinarian is unable to discover the cause of your kitty’s cough you can ask for a referral to a specialist. Coughing is a symptom of an underlying condition and getting to the bottom of it is essential to helping eliminate your cat’s discomfort.  Good luck and let me know if you have any other questions.

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Extremely bad smelling breath

I have a young female totoise/tabby from the shelter who had good smelling breath when I got her a couple years ago, but that has developed extremely bad smelling breath and I’m concerned about her dental hygiene. She was very underweight when I got her so i fed her lots and gave her wet food (Natures Calling, Organix) and over the months her breath got worse and worse until it was extremely bad. I assume she had only been getting dry food before and attributed the bad breath to the wet food. I phased it out and and put her on dry and her breath improved. I now have her on half raw and half dry and it has gotten very bad once more. I don’t want to put her on only dry food because I read that it is not really good for cats. I’ve been brushing her teeth but it doesn’t help much. Last summer a vet misdiagnosed interstitial cystitis for a UTI and gave her cefovecin and her breath incidentally improved quite a lot but became bad again. Do you know why this is happening and what I should try next? Thank you. – Mason

Hi Mason,

Thank you for suspecting something is not right with your cat’s breath. I would agree with you.

The only time bad breath is normal is when you smell it immediately after your cat has eaten and what you smell is the food.  Otherwise, it is commonly indicative of something more serious.  Medical conditions like gingivitis, periodontitis, a tooth root abscess, oral tumors, diabetes, liver and kidney disease can all present with foul smelling breath. So, it is important that your cat be seen by a competent veterinarian in order to determine which of these conditions is affecting your kitty.

It is doubtful that the odor is food related, and I strongly encourage you take your cat to a professional.  It is likely that bloodwork will be necessary and if all is normal, then a dental cleaning will be recommended. Many cities have veterinary dentists and you should look for one in your area. If you prefer to use your regular veterinarian, make sure they have dental x-ray equipment to evaluate the roots under the gums. It is a very important part of the procedure.

You will be amazed at how much better your cat will eat and feel once her problem is resolved. And, you will enjoy not having to smell her bad breath anymore.

Thanks for reaching out. I hope to hear back from you letting me know what the cause of her bad breath turned out to be.

6 Comments on Ask the Cat Doc: Coughing Cat, Cat with Bad Breath, and More

  1. Cleaner Home
    September 21, 2019 at 9:29 am (4 weeks ago)

    So I got my kitten a couple of months ago and it was healthy as I can see. I was wondering if when should I start brushing its teeth as I want to take care of its health as I can.

    Reply
  2. Nancy Lillian Crock
    September 16, 2019 at 11:07 pm (4 weeks ago)

    My EX feral Tuxedo cat presented with an eye problem….running, puffy, swollen eye JUST the left eye. After several medications and several trips to a Feline Ophthalmologist.with NO success I sough out a Holistic vet who put him on natural liquids. Vitamins and extracts, which eventually got his eye back to normal. I was told that he had a hole in his tooth and needed an cleaning, xrays and extraction to the tune of $1000. I couldn’t afford that. So it wasn’t done. He started having blood dripping down his chest from his mouth so I took him to a new vet that told me there was NO hole in his teeth but he had many mouth ulcers. She gave him a shot of steroids and long lasting (30) days, antibiotics. His mouth is better and he has regained the weight he’d lost and he is frisky and back to his old normal self. BUT his breath is terrible. I can NOT see any tartar or build up, but he will NOT let me brush his teeth. He is a big boy ( 17.5 lbs) and I don’t want to be torn up. HELP please.

    Reply
  3. Dinah
    September 16, 2019 at 8:41 pm (4 weeks ago)

    This is for Doris. I DO hope you’ve had an X-ray for your Tabby. I don’t mean to scare you, but here is our experience. My calico had a cough for a couple of months – I was thinking it was allergy related, as I was having the same experience. The X-ray showed a mass in her lung. I was able to afford the surgery which removed a part of her lung. (I would eat beans for the rest of my life, but hey…)
    We had another 4 years with her until the cancer came back in the form of a tumor on the top of her head. The hard part was letting her go even though the only thing irritating her was the itching and bleeding.
    Please do a thorough exam if you haven’t already.

    Reply
  4. Timmy Tomcat
    September 16, 2019 at 12:20 pm (4 weeks ago)

    We have a cat, Rumpy, who has Asthma and he responds well to steroids. I cough and so does Miss Fitz but very seldom that we have been checked for and luckily nothing so far

    Reply
  5. Jane Bond
    September 16, 2019 at 10:39 am (4 weeks ago)

    Hi Dr Bahr – We rescued a feral cat with extensive open & festering wounds in early Spring. Our vet wanted to euthanize her but since she was still eating/drinking I wanted to give her a chance. Her skin had broken down so badly he couldn’t stitch together any of the wounds. The skin tore under the tension of the sutures.

    She received a broad spectrum antibiotic injection and , after a week with no apparent change, I also asked that he try another form of antibiotics in pill form. In the interim, I was clearing out stinking pus and obvious infection routinely, including creating drainage openings for subcutaneous cysts. (I have pics but will spare you the gory detail.)

    I finally went to plan c and covered the wounds – about 10 of them along her back and sides with Manuka Honey. After 4 days, I removed the bandages and noted significant healing. I retreated a couple of wounds but they too cleared completely within a week. It took about 5-6 weeks for her coat to grow back about 75%.

    Now, I am seeing fur loss in a few of the same areas and some minor irritation possibly from grooming. I immediately put some honey on it and the redness decreased but is not fully gone. The vet put her back on antibiotics (oral) but the hair loss is essentially the same if not 10-20% worse in a couple of spots. She does lick the area somewhat frequently or scratch at it with her back foot nail but neither action seems obsessive.

    I talked to the neighbor who first noticed she was ill several months ago and he tells me that he thought she was excessively grooming the general area and that he hadn’t see any immediate evidence of a puncture/slash wound. He just noticed that she seemed get sicker and then noticed sores on her back. (Yes, I would like to smack him but just glad we caught her.)

    Do you have any sense of what’s happening? If only to give me a path to have a deeper discussion with our vet? Could it be adrenal? There’s no evidence of mites, fleas or ticks. She tends to stay within sight of us at all times so is rarely out so not likely to tangle with anyone. (The feral life is not one she chose apparently!) We do have other cats and a dog and none of them seem to have anything wrong other than being spoiled.

    Your observations an/or insights would be greatly appreciated. Thank you. Jane

    Reply
  6. Susanne Dennis
    September 16, 2019 at 7:58 am (4 weeks ago)

    My 18 year old cat’s hair has started to mat up! Is she needing something not provided in her food perhaps? She does not like anyone fussing about with her so it is hard to treat her. I have cut a few of the clumps of hair but now there are a lot of them. I brush her several times a day as she wants to be brushed. Her back along the backbone is loaded with mats. Any suggestions are helpful. I do not shampoo her and she used to groom herself a good deal but now she only does it a bit that I see. She only spends a bit of time outside and is on a leash when she goes. She likes to eat grass. Thanks.

    Reply

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