You know how awful wheezing, coughing and trying to breathe through a congested nose can be. When you hear your beloved Bella struggling with congestion, naturally you want to help. Some expectorants are appropriate for cats, but that's not the case with decongestants.
If Bella's respiratory infection includes a congested cough, you may be tempted to use an expectorant to help loosen things up for her. Expectorants don't stop a cough, but they thin mucus to make it easier to cough up. Clearing the mucus from her airways will help minimize coughing spells and allow the cat to breathe easier, same as they do for you. Be sure you get the right one for Bella, though.
The safe expectorant for cats is guaifenesin, which comes in liquid form for cats. Guaifenesin.org recommends mixing the syrup in wet cat food. As a guideline, a cat should ingest half a milliliter of the medicine for every pound she weighs. Side effects in cats are rare, but some have been reported to experience vomiting and nausea. In even more rare instances, some cats have allergic reactions to the drug, experiencing rashes with hives, difficulty breathing and swelling in the face, particularly around the mouth. If Bella is one of the rare cats showing these symptoms, call the vet and discontinue using guaifenesin immediately.
Bella's labored breathing may tempt you to try a decongestant. Don't. Decongestants work by reducing the swelling in your tissue -- particularly in your nose -- to help improve airflow. The Pet Poison Helpline considers decongestants to be "generally moderate to severe" in their toxicity level for cats. As well, "The Veterinary Formulary" by Yolanda Bishop notes nasal decongestants should be used with caution. It's best to keep Bella away from decongestants, unless your vet prescribes one especially for her.
Relief for Bella
If Bella has a cold, she'll likely recover on her own in a few days. If her appetite is a little off, try goosing it along with some wet food -- the smellier the better -- or even some chicken soup. Putting her in a room with a vaporizer may help relieve her congestion. If she's not eating or recovering, or seems to be getting worse, it's time to take her to the vet. Her simple head cold could be a more complicated upper respiratory infection needing antibiotics.