Cat Wheezing And Coughing Up Phlegm

by Angela N
(Chicago, Illinois)

Reader Question: Is this cat suffering from Chronic Bronchitis?

I am a foster home for feral / abandoned cats and kittens working with a small rescue organization.

One of my most recent litters included a male kitten that at about 9-10 weeks of age started having respiratory symptoms of wheezing, loud breath sounds and regurgitating food along with large amounts of phlegm. He also has bouts of gagging and expelling large amounts of clear, but thick phlegm in between times. This doesn't occur every day but he may repeat it several times in succession.

He was taken in for repeat (albeit brief) checkups and was deemed normal. The problem persisted though, and a chest x-ray was done. It was found that he had nodules on his lungs.

Being underfunded as most rescues are we will not be able to do more extensive testing on him to determine the exact nature of the nodules.

At present he is being treated with a long term round of antibiotics to rule out aspiration pneumonia as a possible cause. He is entering the 3rd week of a 6 week treatment.

The problems did seem to arise after an episode of regurgitating food, but it is hard to tell if that was the cause or merely a symptom, as the regurgitating has continued if he consumes too much food at one time.

Oddly he has no trouble with dry kitten food, but cannot tolerate canned food unless it is smooth in texture and diluted with water (causing him to eat it slower).

There has been no improvement in the symptoms, though he continues to grow and thrive. He has never suffered loss of appetite or lethargy, in fact just the opposite is true. He is vigorous and very energetic.

Without marked improvement of this
problem soon, he is going to be unsuitable for adoption. The alternative is not something I can I live with so I will end up keeping him. I realize he may actually have a more serious affliction and if his health may deteriorate in the future.

In the meantime I am hoping there is something I can do to help him along.

His symptoms seem to parallel those described here under Chronic Bronchitis. Would it be advisable to treat him with Guaifenesin to help ease the expelling of mucous?

Any suggestions would be welcome.

Angela N.

Vet’s Gives Her Input Regarding Cat Chronic Bronchitis

Hi Angela,

This kitten is sure lucky to have found someone like you to look out for him! My guess (and that’s all I can really do without examining him) is that he has either an anatomic or physiologic problem that is preventing food and saliva (could this be the phlegmy substance you mentioned?) from passing normally through his esophagus. His regurgitation could certainly have led to aspiration pneumonia. If this is the case, I suspect his respiratory problems will improve with long term antibiotic therapy but his regurgitation will remain unchanged.

Getting to the bottom of the situation would take some advanced diagnostic testing. If this is impossible, than you should figure out what type of food, feeding technique, and schedule minimizes his regurgitation (e.g., tiny amounts of dry food doled out by an elevated automatic feeder throughout the day) and know that his condition could worsen at any point.

Guaifenesin could loosen and help him cough up any mucus that is in his lungs, but I wouldn’t expect it to make a big difference in his recovery. Talk to the veterinarian who examined him to determine if this might be helpful.


Jennifer Coates, DVM

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Jun 17, 2015
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Sep 19, 2012
1 year later it appears to be Feline Asthma
by: Anonymous

A lot of time has passed since I sent that story about the wheezing kitten. I did some research and found a match for his symptoms (he had stopped regurgitating food and it became just phlegm). He had all the signs and sounds of an Asthmatic cat. His age was unusual for an asthma diagnosis but I asked the vet if we could treat him for Asthma anyway since further testing was not going to be possible and the alternative was probably going to be euthanization (sadly, but he was unadoptable) unless I kept him.

The vet didn't feel that the condition truly was asthma, mainly based on the fact that he was not an adult cat (Asthma is very uncommon in kittens but not unheard of) but agreed the treatment required wouldn't be harmful and if he responded to it that might answer some questions. He prescribed low dose Predinsolone for a 2 month test. I had already ordered a Ventolin steroid inhaler for him and an Albuterol rescue inhaler for the wheezing attacks.

He showed improvement in a week, and the mucous coughing had completely stopped in about 2 weeks and he has only had one short episode in the year since (allergy season worsens asthma symptoms).

It has been just about a year now and he continues to do well. He was the largest kitten in the litter, but as a 1 year old is now the smallest of all my adult cats. I am sure it was the lack of adequate oxygen intake and the stress he went through during his first 6 months. The vet still doesn't agree completely on my diagnosis, but the cat continues to be free of the worst symptoms(he still has loud breath sounds and excess purring brings on short term wheezing)and is happy and playful.

He may still turn out to have some condition other than asthma, but for now this treatment is working for both of us and I am sure it saved his life. Just something to think about when a cat presents with coughing clear, foamy phlegm and there doesn't appear to be other reasons for it(lack of infection or fever or physical deformity).

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