My Cat Coughs and Hacks. Does My Cat Have Hairballs?

Constant coughing and hacking could mean more than hairballs. Hear how to determine whether hairballs, lung disease or anyting else is to blame.

Q: My 2 ½-year-old Persian and Siamese mix cat coughs and hacks. She’s done this for about six weeks. She was tested for leukemia, heartworm etc., and was fine. She is otherwise healthy.

I thought it was a hairball issue. She is a strictly indoor cat. My cat’s vet gave me Laxatone my cat did cough up two hairballs that same weekend; however, she continues to do this awful hacking. She can’t play very long before she starts hacking. She even hacked almost all night the other night so it’s just not with activity.

She has food for indoor cats and treats for hairball control. I am worried about her. Does my cat have asthma? I just don’t know and feel helpless.

A: People tend to blame cat hairballs for everything. A cat who hacks for six weeks likely does not have a hairball. Granted, Persians are longhaired cats and do get hairballs more frequently than short-haired cat breeds, but cats do not “hack” or “cough” up hairballs continuously, the way you’ve described. Cats vomit up hairballs. (People need to stop using the phrase “cough up a hairball”; it’s very misleading. Coughing suggests a lung problem. Hairballs live in the stomach, not the lungs.)

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If hairball diets and hairball gels/ointments do not curb the problem, then clearly something else is going on. Hairballs wouldn’t cause a cat to start hacking after just a few minutes of play.

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Cats that hack and cough are more likely to have a respiratory problem. A lung X-ray is the first test your cat needs. Many things might make your cat cough, for example, asthma, bronchitis, chylothorax (lymphatic fluid trapped between the lungs and the chest wall) and heartworm disease. You mention that the heartworm test was negative. Have your veterinarian take an X-ray.

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Your vet may want to do a few blood tests as well, although in most cases bloodwork doesn’t contribute any helpful information on the cause of the cough (although occasionally it can; for example, an increased number of a type of white blood cell called eosinophils suggests an allergic or parasitic cause. A high number of neutrophils may suggest an infectious cause.). Depending on the diagnosis, your vet might prescribe antibiotics, or anti-inflammatory drugs, to get the disorder under control.

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