Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: June 27, 2023 by Crystal Uys


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

Image Credit: chie hidaka, Shutterstock

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.

Extremely bad smelling breath

Image Credit: Andrei Metelev, Shutterstock

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.

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