Your cat's coughing, but there's no need to freak out. Cat litter, particularly dusty clumping variates, can kick-start coughing fits or drive another cough-inducing health issue into high gear. Switching litter brands or types may help. If your cat keeps coughing, something else could be wrong. See a vet.
When your cat cat coughs, something's irritating or has inflamed his trachea or bronchial tree. A lot of coughing can be a symptom of serious health issues. Anything other than an occasional cough merits a trip to the vet.
The cause may be mechanical -- your cat could've simply inhaled something, and dusty litter is a likely culprit -- but it could also be medical. Allergies, asthma, heartworm, roundworm, lungworm, cardiomyopathy, nasopharyngeal polyps, chronic bronchitis, bordetella and fungal infections are all possible causes. Even in these cases, though, litter can make your cat cough.
If your cat's having trouble breathing -- the medical term is dyspnoea -- a speedy diagnosis is especially important.
When Litter Isn't the Issue
This may sound odd, but make sure your cat's cough is really a cough.
Retching, gagging and vomiting, for instance, all look like coughing. Watch where your cat goes after coughing and you may discover he's hacking up hairballs. You just happened to catch him start the process near the litter box.
Also, make sure your cat's cough isn't just a normal cough.
Cats sometimes get air or food in the wrong pipes and needs to need to clear their throats, just like people. It could just be coincidence you're spotting him coughing by the litter box.
If you've eliminated those possibilities and your cat's clearly coughing in or by his litter box, the litter's probably part of the problem.
When Litter Is the Issue
Cats naturally bury their waste, which is why you've got a litter box indoors -- preferably one for each cat, plus one.
While your cat's digging around in his walk-in toilet, he may be stirring up loose particles that get caught in his throat that make him cough or sneeze.
If your litter is causing problems, try a different variety. If your cat is especially finicky, you may have to mix the new litter in with the old litter for a few days.
Research shows most cats prefer finer, unscented litters, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Dust varies by material, brand and even batch. Some cats are especially sensitive and allergic to particular products, but the exact allergens are a matter of debate.
When Litter Triggers Other Issues
Once you fix your cat's litter, he may cough less but continue coughing nonetheless. It could be that whatever's wrong with him makes him more cough-prone and you've addressed just a symptom, not the disease. Schedule a vet appointment.
One common diagnosis is a respiratory infection, which is essentially a cold. Your cat will cough, he'll sneeze, he'll have a runny nose, and he might seem a little off. It's treatable.
Some conditions, like chronic asthma and bronchitis, are hard to tell apart, even with medical testing, and difficult to address. They're manageable, though. A range of diseases have a range of possible outcomes, too, so cross your fingers. You might never know why your cat's coughing, but you can address litter issues and make it easier on him.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
- Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine: The Coughing Pet
- Danièlle Gunn-Moore: Chronic Coughing in Cats Part I -- Causes
- VetInfo: Coughing in Cats
- The Ohio State University Indoor Pet Initiative: Litter Boxes
- Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine: Kitty Litter Preferences
- CatInfo.org: The Litter Box From Your Cat's Point of View
- The Humane Society of the United States: Preventing Littler Box Problems