Wheezing in Cats – What To Do?

Cats can produce a variety of sounds and they’re not limited to meowing. In fact, some cats could even make a sound similar to that of a chirping bird. But the sounds they make are subject to how vocal they are and how willing they are to make sounds.

But if there is one sound that they cannot control making, it would definitely be the wheezing. Unfortunately, most cat owners classify any unusual sound their pets make as “wheezing” even when it’s not.

Medically speaking, wheezing is described as a “high-pitched” sound that occurs whenever your pet exhales. This sound is often caused by the narrowing of the airway causing air to be trapped in the lungs.

cat snoring while sleeping

The wheezing sound may be the trapped air being forced out of the lower regions of the lungs and expelled through the narrow airway.

What Does Not Qualify as Wheezing?

Not every unusual sound your cat makes can be classified as wheezing. Here are some sounds your cat makes that can be mistaken for wheezing.

  • Stertor

Stertor is basically a low-pitched noisy breathing sound produced during inhalation that is similar to snoring. It is often caused by the blockage of the airway in the pharynx, by the vibrations of the fluid or the relaxed tissues.

This uncommon sound could be often noticed during a cat’s deep sleep.

  • Stridor

Another less common sound, stridor is a high-pitched noisy breathing produced when rigid tissues vibrate with the passing air. This happens when the larynx or voice box is partially or completely blocked.

This sound could occur during either inhalation or exhalation.

  • Whistling

If you have ever seen a cat suffering from congestion, it is highly likely that you’ve caught a high-pitched whistling sound escape from it. The congestion can be caused by a number of respiratory infections that cats can acquire.

Whistling is often accompanied by other signs of congestion such as coughing, sneezing, and nasal discharge.

  • Dyspnea

If you think people are the only ones who can suffer from dyspnea, you’re wrong. Basically a difficulty in breathing, dyspnea can occur in both inhalation and exhalation. However, this only happens when your pet is severely struggling to breathe either due to pneumonia, heart failure, or other lower airway issues.

Symptoms of Cat Wheezing

Cat wheezing sounds are highly similar to that of humans. The wheezing sounds painful and this can even be furthered by how the cat acts. While wheezing, the cat would hunch its shoulders and extend its neck back and forth. It would look like it wants to cough something up or wants to breathe in more air as exhibited by the extending of its neck.

The Causes of Cat Wheezing

There could be a number of reasons why your cat is producing wheezing sounds but what’s certain is that it’s not because your pet is a heavy smoker. Chances are your cat is wheezing due to at least one of the following:

  • Hairballs

This is often the case when it comes to cat wheezing and most of the time you wouldn’t have anything to worry about. From time to time, your cat will cough up hairballs that had built up inside its body. Prior to this, your cat may produce wheezing sounds.

However, when the hairball built up has become too big inside the cat’s body it might become difficult to dislodge it. The worst case scenario is that surgery would be required to remove the build-up of the hairball.

  • Foreign Objects

Sometimes, cats swallow foreign objects like pieces of toys or large portions of food that they may find difficult to expel from their bodies and when this happens, they might start to wheeze especially when these objects get stuck inside the respiratory tract.

Aside from the wheezing, your cat may start to spasm as it tries to cough up the foreign object that had gotten stuck inside it.

While it is likely that your pet might not welcome your probing hands, you can try to open its mouth and check the palate and what visible part you see on its throat.

  • Flat Face

The facial structure can also be a determinant as to whether a cat is more prone to wheezing than others. With this being said, cat breeds with a flat face structure are more likely to wheeze due to their short noses. Having a flat face can sometimes make it difficult for cats to breathe resulting in a condition called brachycephalic syndrome.

With this condition, it would always sound as if something is clogging your cat’s airways, producing a wheezing sound.

  • Allergies

Cats are not immune to allergies and some of these can cause wheezing to occur. Pollen, dust, cigarette smoke, and molds are just some of the allergies that can cause wheezing. If you want to avoid your cat’s allergies being triggered by these substances, you can try to maintain the cleanliness of your home and allow it to breathe fresh air.

If the wheezing doesn’t cease, then you should definitely have your pet checked by a veterinarian.

  • Respiratory Problems

When the integrity of your pet’s respiratory system is jeopardized, one of the biggest signs is wheezing sounds. Respiratory illnesses like asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis, and even chlamydia can cause wheezing.

The wheezing sounds caused by sinus infections and chlamydia are often due to a runny nose. However, bronchitis and asthma can produce actual wheezing sounds coming from the airway.

Respiratory problems in felines are more often followed by wheezing than not.

  • Parasites

Parasites are not something you would want your cat to have because not only do they cause wheezing, they also come in an array of symptoms such as coughing, weakness, loss of appetite, vomiting, and lethargy among other things. Heartworms and lungworms, in particular, can inhabit in your cat’s lungs and are extremely dangerous especially if they are not removed immediately.

Since the symptoms exhibited by parasite-ridden cats often coincide with several other conditions, they make it difficult to detect the problem and this can have serious repercussions for your cat’s wellbeing.

  • Tumors, Polyps, and Cancer Growths

If your cat is wheezing incessantly, there’s a chance that there is a growth in its sinus, throat, and respiratory system. Polyps, tumors, and cancers are the most common types of growth and could be properly treated and removed by a licensed veterinarian.

  • Heart Conditions and Other Diseases

If your cat is constantly producing wheezing sounds but the cause isn’t anything from the items mentioned above, then there is a probability that your pet is suffering from heart failure or some other disease you are yet to be aware of.

If the wheezing persists and you can’t determine the cause, observe your cat’s behavior and if it has changed drastically, it’s time to visit the vet.

Cat Wheezing: Treatment

There are times when cat wheezing is not alarming especially when it’s just trying to cough up some hairball. So when you see your cat wheezing, try to observe for a few minutes if something would come out of its mouth. If the wheezing persists and nothing comes out, it’s time to pay your vet a visit.

Your vet may perform a number of tests to determine the cause of your cat’s wheezing. Once the cause has been revealed, the vet would also create a treatment plan for your pet which may involve surgery and medicine among other things. Each cause may provide a different treatment.

Miranda LaSala
Miranda LaSala

My destination ever since I was born was to be a cat person. When I had the chance, I took the course on Veterinary Tech from Pima Medical Institute, Seattle. For the last 5 years, I've worked as a kennel assistant, veterinary nurse, and a surgical nurse.

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