While it might seem a bit strange or worrisome, there are several common reasons your cat coughs when purring. These reasons generally relate to the cat’s larynx, which gets involved when your cat purrs.
In this article, we’ll cover four of triggers of purr-induced coughing in cats. Read on as we delve deeper into this intriguing topic.
- Coughing that happens mainly when a cat purrs indicates involvement of the larynx.
- Infection, inflammation, masses and foreign objects are the most common reasons cats cough during purring.
- A coughing cat needs to be examined by a veterinarian. Home treatment is not an effective or reliable solution in most cases.
A cough that’s triggered by purring points to a problem in the cat’s larynx. The purring action vibrates the irritated throat tissue, leading to a coughing fit. Laryngeal problems include upper respiratory infection, laryngitis, foreign objects, tumors and laryngeal paralysis.
Why do cats cough when purring?
While a healthy cat doesn’t usually cough when purring, it can happen if there’s an issue with their upper respiratory tract.
A cat’s respiratory tract starts with their nostrils. The air then flows into a system of sinuses in the cat’s skull, which are lined with a mucus membrane. This system warms, moistens, and cleans the air before it goes into the lungs.
Next, air moves from the sinuses into the cat’s “voice box,” or larynx, and then down into the windpipe. The lining of the respiratory tract traps dust, pollen, and small organisms to keep the lungs clean. But this can lead to irritation, inflammation, and infection in the sinuses and larynx.
So how does purring factor in? Well, when a cat purrs, the muscles around the larynx relax and contract quickly.(1) This vibration, along with the rhythmic contraction of the diaphragm, creates the purring sound. If the larynx is inflamed, purring can make it feel ticklish, which triggers a cough to clear the irritation.
Now, let’s go over the most common causes of laryngeal irritation in cats…
1. Post-nasal drip from upper respiratory infection
Post-nasal drip from upper respiratory infection Upper respiratory infections (URIs) are commonplace in cats, with most cats encountering them by adulthood. These infections can be triggered by viruses, bacteria, or fungi, and sometimes lead to a secondary bacterial infection in the sinuses.
Although some cats experience acute URI, others may not fully recover or may sustain tissue damage, leading to chronic URI symptoms. This includes nasal discharge, coughing, noisy breathing, and sneezing.
Post-nasal drip, where mucus from the sinuses moves backward towards the throat, is a common outcome of URI. Purring vibrations can loosen this mucus, creating a tickling sensation in the larynx, resulting in coughing or gagging.
Treatment primarily targets the reduction of mucus production and inflammation, typically employing antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications. The prognosis for cats with chronic upper respiratory symptoms is generally good to fair, with cats leading normal lives, albeit with potential recurring symptoms.
A cat’s larynx is part of the upper respiratory tract and is attached to the back of the sinuses and the front of the windpipe/trachea. The larynx contains the cat’s vocal cords and the epiglottis which is like a tiny lid to keep anything other than air from getting into the trachea.
Since the larynx is at the junction of the upper and lower respiratory tracts, it is exposed to a lot of debris and microorganisms. That’s why it’s not unusual for cats to experience inflammation of this area, a.k.a. laryngitis. Common causes include viruses, bacteria, fungi, allergens or airborne irritants like smoke.
Symptoms of laryngeal inflammation in cats may include change in meow or purr quality, coughing, coughing set off by purring, drooling, trouble swallowing, hard swallowing and poor appetite and weight loss.
Effective treatment of laryngeal inflammation in cats depends on identifying the underlying cause. Your veterinarian may recommend blood tests, xrays and possibly an exam of the larynx while your cat is under anesthesia.
The prognosis is good to fair in many cases of viral or allergic causes. Your cat may need to take medication to control chronic inflammation.
3. Growth or foreign object in throat
Occasionally, upper respiratory or laryngeal symptoms in cats are caused by an object in the area. The object may be in the form of an inflammatory polyp, a cyst, a benign or cancerous tumor or even a foreign object such as a piece of grass or food.
The symptoms of a growth or object in a cat’s upper respiratory tract often include changes in voice, noisy breathing, trouble swallowing, coughing, gagging, not purring or coughing when purring, nasal discharge, bleeding from the nose or mouth, very bad breath, and even respiratory distress.
Before treatment can be tried, your vet will need to get a good look to see if there is a foreign object or growth present. Special imaging procedures like CT scan, MRI, and endoscopy are often required. Sometimes foreign objects can be removed during endoscopy. Biopsy and culture sample can also be collected during the procedure.
The prognosis for recovery from upper respiratory foreign bodies is often good. Benign tumors that can be fully removed have a better prognosis than cancerous tumors.
4. Laryngeal paralysis
When vets talk about laryngeal paralysis, we’re usually talking about dogs. But it occasionally happens to cats, too. (2) Laryngeal paralysis is a disease in which one or both sides of the larynx become paralyzed.
Paralysis of the larynx means the larynx can’t open wide enough to let air in and the vocal cords can’t make normal sounds. Other symptoms include voice changes, noisy breathing, and coughing. Some cats don’t have any noticeable symptoms at all.
Some causes of laryngeal paralysis in cats include trauma, polymyositis and cancer. But in most cases, the cause is never identified.
Treatment of symptomatic laryngeal paralysis involves surgery to permanently hold the larynx open so air can flow freely. (4) The prognosis for cats with laryngeal paralysis is generally poor, but there are reports of cats who had surgery surviving for at least 11 months. (3)
When a cat coughs during purring, it often signifies irritation in the upper respiratory tract. While some causes of this issue can be mild and resolve on their own, others might be chronic or progressively worsen. It’s crucial to consult a veterinarian in such scenarios to ensure your cat receives the most appropriate treatment, paving the way for a swift recovery.