Ask the Cat Doc: Finding the Cause of Respiratory Problems

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Welcome back Dr. Bahr! After a three month absence, our “Ask the Cat Doc With Dr. Lynn Bahr” segment is back! Once a month, Dr. Bahr answers as many of your questions as she can, and you can leave new questions for her in a comment.

Dr. Bahr is a 1991 graduate of the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine and founder of Dezi & Roo, a company that designs, manufactures, and sells solution-based products that enhance the lives of cats and their owners. She volunteers at numerous animal-related charities and causes and serves on the Fear Free Advisory Board, the Parliamentarian of the Society of Veterinary Medical Ethics, the Cat Committee of the Pet Professional Guild, and the Alley Cat Allies’ Feline Forward Task Force.

Dr. Bahr is co-author of the upcoming book Indoor Cat: How to Enrich Their Lives and Expand Their Worlddue out in April of 2022 and available for pre-order now.

For more information about Dezi & Roo and their unique and innovative cat toys, please visit Dezi and Roo on Etsy.

Do you have a question for Dr. Bahr? Leave it in a comment and she’ll answer it in next month’s column.

Cause of coughing, wheezing and sneezing

My 14.5 yo male Ragdoll is sneezing and coughing. The sneezing is new the spastic coughing has been going on for a year. my vet said it could be an allergy, and to try to eliminate food items. He is now on a limited ingredient Duck (dry) food and has continued coughing/wheezing through the process of changing foods. I have asthma and his cough sounds a lot like mine, one triggers the next and this goes on for 60-70 seconds in a spasm. Is this an upper respiratory infection, if so what can be done? The coughing started at the same time that he had an eye infection, but prescription ointment fix the eyes. The coughing is still here and seems to be triggered by exertion (jumping, the dog bothering him). When he lays on the bed next to me, I can hear moist breathing through his nose. Any ideas? I’ve thrown out a ton of food that didn’t work, wet and dry. – Jo A Case

Hi Jo,

Thank you for writing in with your concern about your cat’s recent respiratory problems. I, too, would question why he is sneezing, coughing, and making moist breathing sounds. Anything new, and out of the ordinary, should be taken seriously and I appreciate you looking for answers.

There are several different medical conditions that could be causing his symptoms. These would include asthma, various virus infections (herpes, calici, etc.), heart and/or lung problems, neoplasia, dental disease, or allergies just to name a few. The coughing and sneezing could be related, or they could also represent two separate issues. Without a few important diagnostics it would be difficult to know exactly what is going on with your precious kitty.

When investigating these types of symptoms, it is helpful to try to first figure out if the problems are situated in the upper or lower airways. Diagnostics used to detect upper airway disease can include things like simple auscultation, dental exam and oral x-rays, radiographs of the skull, viral testing, and even endoscopy of the nasal passages. Diagnostics to evaluate the lower chest cavity would include simple auscultation of the heart and lungs, chest x-rays +/- a cardiac ultrasound.

While the above list of diagnostics sounds complicated, it can be accomplished relatively easily. I would begin with a good physical exam, paying special attention to auscultation of the heart, lungs, and pharynx. Getting a good look in the oral cavity would be helpful as well to look for evidence of dental disease. Then I would want to get some radiographs of the chest to better evaluate the heart, lungs, and trachea.

With the simple diagnostics mentioned above, your veterinarian should have a better idea as to what the problem might be, or what further diagnostics are needed, and what steps can be taken to treat it.

I would recommend you seek a second opinion from a feline-only veterinarian or an internal medicine specialist to get to the bottom of this. I am confident they can figure out what is going on.

I appreciate you writing in and hope you will keep me updated on your findings.

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