Respiratory system of the cat: the main diseases and the most effective treatments

Is your cat not breathing well? Here are the most important diseases of the respiratory system and how to recognize them from the first symptoms.

There are several pathologies that can afflict our tender four-legged friend. In particular at a low level of severity we find pharyngitis, laryngitis and tracheitis, then bronchitis and bronchiolitis, feline asthma and finally pneumonia, pulmonary edema and tumors. Let’s see what are the main symptoms that must serve as alarm bells for the attentive and scrupulous owner.

Diseases of the respiratory system in cats: symptoms

The cat has a respiratory system that is divided into the upper one, which includes the nose, pharynx and larynx, and the lower one that collects the trachea and lungs. We certainly don’t have to jump to the cat’s first sneeze but also pay attention to other details such as: a runny nose, snoring during sleep and difficulty swallowing. To this we must add cough, shortness of breath and breathlessness: all these symptoms bring down the cat and force it to lose its appetite.

When the secretions that come out of the nose take on a bluish color or the symptoms do not tend to go away, then it is advisable to contact a veterinarian immediately. These are the main symptoms that we can ‘pick up’ from the outside, that is, without an expert visit or specific tests. Now let’s see what are the causes that can trigger them.

Diseases of the respiratory system in cats: the causes

Like the symptoms, the triggering causes can be different from each other: from allergies to obstruction of the respiratory tract, from dental problems to the presence of parasites and infections. It is better to seek expert advice to prevent these symptoms from worsening or concealing other pathologies.


Feline viral rhinotracheitis, caused by viruses and bacteria, such as herpes virus and calicivirus and dog and feline bordetella, chlamydia, mycoplasmas, triggers an infection in the cat: runny nose, noisy breathing and general exhaustion. There is a swab test to identify infection, and treatment involves rebuilding the immune system. There is a vaccine for this pathology : it is best to administer it when the cat is still very young. In the case of pneumonia, however, the treatment is usually antibiotic, to be administered for weeks or even months. Meanwhile, the cat can be facilitated in breathing with expectorant drugs and inhalations.

Dental problems

Even if not triggered by viruses or external factors, dental infections can indeed trigger colds and coughs, but also general fatigue, difficulty swallowing and sneezing. Since dental problems are quite simple to diagnose as the gums can be red and swollen, the vet can get to the diagnosis quickly and proceed with treatment.


Parasites can enter the body of the feline through food: especially cats that eat snails run this risk. One of the main symptoms is chronic cough, although it can sometimes be asymptomatic. Diagnosis is made through x-rays or stool examination, while treatment involves medications such as suitable anthelmintics. The cure to eliminate cat parasites can continue even when the breathing problems are over.


Let’s see if the symptoms occur at certain times of the year: they could be linked to seasonal cat allergies. Just like the human, the cat can be allergic to pollen, dust mites or it can be a food allergy: in the latter case it is worth talking about intolerances. Let’s try to submit to the cat a diet to exclude the foods to avoid because they cause discomfort, identify the ‘offending’ foods and avoid them.

Foreign bodies

We don’t necessarily think about the parts of a game, but even a blade of catnip if it ends up in the windpipe can trigger an irritation to the respiratory tract. Symptoms are coughing, sneezing and difficulty swallowing. If you see little or nothing with the naked eye, but we suspect that the cat may have inhaled or swallowed something, let’s contact the veterinarian.


This is how benign growths in the pharynx or ears of young cats are defined. These force the cat to breathe loudly and get a cold. These polyps are surgically removable and are also easily diagnosed by the vet with some tests.

Diseases of the respiratory system in cats

Once the symptoms and causes of respiratory diseases have been identified, we proceed to analyze them more closely. Although it is not the owner’s task to diagnose them, having some more information on the various types can reassure or keep the human aware of the problems of our beloved cat.

Pharyngitis, laryngitis and tracheitis

This group of pathologies includes viral rhinotracheitis and calicivirosis which are often triggered by sudden changes in temperature but also viruses. The cough is so irritating and peculiar that it seems that the cat wants to expel an inhaled foreign body or hairballs. A tracheitis is often accompanied by rhinitis, pharyngitis, laryngitis and bronchitis. In this last case the cough is oily because it is characterized by the presence of mucus and other secretions that the cat could expel.

Bronchitis and bronchiolitis

When respiratory diseases affect the part of the bronchi and also attack the lungs, they start from less severe symptoms to reach dangerous peaks. From dry cough to greasy cough and the cat can breathe worse and worse. Of course, before the symptoms become more severe, it is best to rush to the vet immediately.


Sometimes triggered factors are caused by the owner himself and are found in the environment where the cat lives, i.e. the house. Among the causes of allergic asthma we find cigarette smoke, accumulating dust, sprays, detergents for household hygiene that if inhaled can annoy the cat. Respiratory crises are characterized by rales, an open mouth as if wanting to get as much air as possible and dilated pupils. An X-ray of the lungs is useful to identify it: cortisone is often chosen for treatment, while other drugs help to clear the airways.


Pneumonia affects the quality of the feline’s breathing and is by no means asymptomatic. The cat appears tired, does not want to eat nor does he seem interested in playing: in short, activities that normally attract him do not seem to interest him anymore. There is no cough but the cat always wants to sleep and has a runny nose perpetually. Again, the cat could open its mouth as wide as possible to take in air.

Pulmonary edema

When fluid forms in the lungs, it is referred to as feline pulmonary edema. The causes can be in the poisons, or triggered by viruses and also by respiratory failure or heart failure. The cat understandably does not breathe well, has secretions from the nose, and breathes with noisy rales: it is good to take the cat immediately to the vet to avoid a respiratory crisis that could be fatal.


In severe cases, respiratory diseases can be caused by cancer, the symptoms of which are cough and nasal discharge, accompanied by excessive weight loss, loss of appetite and high temperatures.

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