Gagging in cats

Gagging or retching is quite common in cats. It’s often associated with hairballs, so brief episodes aren’t usually cause for concern. Gagging that is severe or recurrent needs further investigation.

Gagging is a reflex of your cat’s body. Gag or retch sounds like they are trying to vomit while also coughing. It can be difficult to distinguish between coughing and vomiting. Sometimes they bring up white foam or mucous. If it persists or is accompanied by other signs, contact a vet.


What to do

What to do if your cat is gagging?

Check your cat

  • Are they well in themselves?
  • Are they agitated and gagging persistently?
  • Is this a sudden onset?
  • Are they behaving differently from usual? Are they hiding or seeking more cuddles than usual?
  • Are they breathing faster or more heavily than normal?
  • Are they bringing anything up?

Take action

  • Contact a vet for an emergency appointment if your cat seems agitated or subdued, struggling to breathe or is open mouth breathing.
  • Contact a vet if they are not getting better. If it’s a brief episode and they’re otherwise well. Keep them indoors and monitor them for 48 hours.



Common causes of gagging in cats

  • Hairballs 
  • Something trapped
  • Eating too quickly
  • Nausea (exposure to toxins/irritants, kidney or liver disease)
  • Respiratory airway disease (infectious, parasites, asthma)
  • Dental disease


When to worry

When you should be worried about your cat gagging

Seek emergency vet care, if your cat is:

  • Struggling to breathe or open mouth breathing (cats don’t pant, this is an emergency!)
  • Constant gagging that doesn’t settle
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Becoming agitated or subdued
  • Not eating or drinking

Joii can help if:

  • Recurring gagging
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Nasal or eye discharge
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Drooling
  • Behaviour change (hiding, being more quiet than usual, seeking more cuddles)



Tips on how to prevent your cat from gagging

There is no way to prevent gagging. This is a reflex response of your cat’s body and it protects their airways.

We can only prevent problems that trigger this reflex. You can do this by: 

  • Brushing your cat to prevent eating too much of his own fur when grooming
  • Being careful when letting your cat chew objects
  • Keeping up to date with cat flu vaccines
  • Deworming them for lungworm
  • Taking them to your vets for annual checks



How to diagnose the cause of gagging in cats

To help determine why your cat is gagging, your vet will:

  • Talk through the history of your cat’s recent events
  • Check your cat’s mouth, face and listen to their chest

Additional tests to rule out other conditions might be recommended by your vet:

  • Radiographs (x-rays)
  • Look into their throat under general anaesthetic
  • Rhinoscopy (looking through their nose and throat with a camera)
  • Blood tests
  • Occasionally MRI or a CT scan


Home treatment

How to help a cat that is gagging

  • Hairballs: Brushing your cat regularly to remove loose hairs can help with this condition.
  • Something trapped in their throat: If you can’t easily remove this, take your cat to the nearest vet now!
  • Eating too quickly: Feed them smaller meals more frequently. Toy feeders or slow feeder mats can provide slow feeding and promote mental stimulation.
  • Nausea: Drooling and vomiting are the most obvious signs of a cat feeling nauseated. If you see it, stay calm and monitor them.
  • Respiratory viral diseases: Cat flu is a viral illness that causes similar symptoms to human flu. In healthy cats, it is not usually serious, unlike in kittens and adult cats with underlying illnesses. The article on cat flu provides further information.
  • Asthma: Protect your cat from harmful irritants like cigarette smoke, dust or strong perfumes. Seek veterinary advice for asthma medication.



Vet treatment

How your vets may treat gagging in your cat

Once your vets identified the cause, they can provide better treatment options. For instance:

  • Other respiratory infections: Lungworm, a prescription type of monthly deworming is necessary. Other infections may need antibiotics.
  • Dental diseases: Can require dental treatment under anaesthesia.




Are some cats more at risk of gagging than others?

  • Long hair cats: Are more likely to gag due to hairballs and seasonal coat changes.
  • Cats with hormone disorders: Can have a voracious appetite and eat too quickly. If you suspect your cat’s appetite has increased contact a vet.
  • Younger/outdoor cats: Can be more prone to scavenging behaviour. Foreign materials or plants (such as grass) can get stuck in their throat.
  • Older cats: Can be more prone to gagging due to their vulnerability to diseases in general.

Other causes of gagging

Gagging with coughing may be a warning of other serious diseases, including:

  • Heart disease
  • Toxic plants
  • Renal disease
  • Liver disease
  • Throat or mouth tumours
  • Neurologic conditions

For more information about coughing in cats click here.


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