It's unnerving to listen to Fluffy cough and not know how help her. Maybe food or water went down the wrong pipe; perhaps she swallowed string or is having an allergic reaction. Sometimes a little "people medicine" can be just what the vet ordered.
Benadryl and Fluffy
Benadryl, the antihistamine many people turn to for relief from allergy symptoms, works by blocking histamines released in a bout with allergies, a cold or hay fever. It can help with the symptoms from a "histamine attack," such as coughing, but it won't cure the problem and it's usually not the best option for controlling cough. Although cats can take Benadryl, it has potential side effects, including hyperexcitability, diarrhea, decreased appetite and urination, dry mouth, vomiting and sedation. Benadryl can react with a variety of drugs; if Fluffy has heart disease, hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure or a bladder disorder, exercise extra caution in medicating her with Benadryl. The best bet is to consult your vet.
Safe Over the Counter Options
Though Benadryl may help you with your cough, it's not the first choice of home treatment for a cat's cough. If her cough is mild and has just started, try one of the various cough suppressants available for children at your local drugstore. Plain Robitussin is a safe option; the expectorant guaifenesen won't suppress her cough, but it will help her free up mucus. The only safe cough suppressant for cats is dextromethorphan, found in Robitussin DM.
Important to Avoid
Reading the label is vital if you're going to try an over the counter treatment for Fluffy's cough. A host of cough suppressants contain acetaminophen -- commonly known as Tylenol -- codeine and other narcotics which are toxic to cats. None of the cough medicines available for us over-the-counter are approved for use in cats. Don't medicate Fluffy with any over-the-counter medication without discussing the proper use and dosage with your vet.
Types of Coughs
WebMD notes some common causes and types of coughs in cats. Some scenarios include watery red eyes with sneezing and coughing, suggesting viral respiratory infection; sporadic coughing with loss of appetite, weight loss and lethargy, which can mean heartworms, lungworms and fungal diseases; sudden coughing with wheezing and breathing difficulty, pointing to feline asthma; and deep coughing producing phlegm, suggesting chronic bronchitis. If Fluffy's coughing doesn't clear up in a couple of days, or if it's accompanied by poor appetite, discharge from her eyes and nose, difficulty breathing or fever, she should see the vet.