Q: Several times a day my cat will start hacking like he is trying to vomit a hairball but nothing comes up. He crouches low to the floor and stretches his neck out and sometimes he kind of shakes his head when he is doing this. This has been going on for several days. His appetite and bowel movements haven’t changed and his activity level hasn’t changed. I’ve been trying a commercial hairball remedy but haven’t really seen any change. I appreciate any help.
A: I don’t think your cat is trying to vomit. I think your cat is coughing. The way you describe it — he hunkers down, stretches out the neck and makes a hacking sound — is more descriptive of a coughing spell.
The most common cause of coughing in cats is asthma. Other possibilities include infectious bronchitis, pneumonia, heartworm-associated respiratory disease, respiratory parasites, and other respiratory disorders.
You should take your cat to the veterinarian as soon as practical. If you’re not sure if your cat is coughing or vomiting, you should try to video the episodes. This shouldn’t be too difficult if it happens as often as you say. If you show the video to your vet, he or she will be able to tell right away if it is coughing or vomiting. Your vet will probably suggest a few diagnostic tests, which may include a complete blood count, heartworm test, fecal analysis and chest X-ray. Once a diagnosis is made, specific therapy can be prescribed. Asthma is treated with anti-inflammatory medication, and sometimes bronchodilators (drugs that open up the air passages). Most cats respond well to treatment.