Why Is My Cat Making Hairball Noises With No Hairball?


Coughing in cats can be concerning for pet owners, especially when no hairball is produced. This article will examine some of the possible causes, diagnosis methods, treatments, and prevention tips for a cat cough with no hairball. The key sections will cover common causes like asthma, heart disease, infections, and obstructions; how vets diagnose the issue; treatment options; ways to prevent coughing; and when to take your cat to the vet.

Possible Causes

There are several possible causes for a cat coughing without producing a hairball:

Asthma – Feline asthma is caused by inflammation and narrowing of the bronchial airways. It can lead to coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. Asthma attacks are often triggered by irritants like smoke, dust, and pollen. Treatment usually involves bronchodilators and corticosteroids.

Heart Disease – Feline heart disease can cause fluid buildup in the lungs, leading to coughing. Heart conditions like cardiomyopathy, heartworm disease, and heart valve disorders can all produce coughing.

Infections – Upper respiratory infections from viruses or bacteria like feline herpesvirus, calicivirus, Chlamydophila, and Bordetella can cause coughing. The infections lead to airway inflammation. Antibiotics are used for bacterial infections.

Obstructions – Foreign objects like grass blades or asthma, tumors, collapsing trachea, or parasites can partially block the airways and lead to coughing. Treatment depends on identifying and addressing the obstruction.

Diagnostic tests like chest X-rays, heart ultrasound, bloodwork, tracheal wash, and bronchoscopy can help determine the underlying cause in order to direct appropriate treatment.


Asthma is a common cause of chronic coughing in cats. With feline asthma, the airways become inflamed and narrowed, making it difficult for the cat to breathe. Asthma attacks cause coughing, wheezing, and labored breathing. Cats may also open their mouths to breathe and stretch their necks out. Asthma attacks often occur at night or early morning when the airways are most irritated.[1]

To diagnose asthma, the vet will listen to the cat’s breathing and may take x-rays of the chest. Bloodwork helps rule out heart disease. The vet may prescribe bronchodilators to open up the airways and steroids to reduce inflammation. Some cats benefit from inhalers. Asthma cannot be cured, but with proper treatment most cats can lead normal lives.[2]

Things that can be done at home include avoiding triggers like smoke, dust, and scented products which irritate the airways. Weight management is also important as extra weight makes breathing more difficult. With proper care and treatment, most cats with asthma live happily for years.

Heart Disease

Heart disease is a common cause of coughing in cats. The most common heart disease in cats is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), which causes the heart muscle to thicken. This thickening makes it harder for the heart to pump blood effectively. Coughing can sometimes be a symptom as fluid starts to build up in the lungs due to congestive heart failure.

Other symptoms of heart disease and heart failure in cats include lethargy, decreased appetite, rapid breathing, and exercise intolerance. However, cats often hide symptoms until the disease has progressed. Cats with HCM may not show any signs at all.

Veterinarians use chest x-rays, ECGs, and echocardiograms to diagnose heart disease and check the thickness of the heart wall. There is no cure for feline HCM, but medications can help manage the symptoms and slow the progression. Treatments usually include diuretics to reduce fluid buildup, ACE inhibitors to relax blood vessels and decrease the workload on the heart, and other drugs that strengthen heart contractions.

Pet owners should monitor cats for any signs of heart disease, especially as they age. Annual vet exams and diagnostic screening for at-risk breeds can detect heart disease early. Catching it early allows for better management. Though incurable, treatment can provide many cats with a good quality of life for years after diagnosis. Prompt veterinary care is key to successful management of heart disease and congestive heart failure in cats.


Upper respiratory infections are common in cats and are caused by viruses or bacteria. The most common culprits are feline herpesvirus, calicivirus, Chlamydophila, and Bordetella bronchiseptica. These infections often lead to symptoms like sneezing, nasal discharge, coughing, fever, sore throat, eye discharge, and trouble breathing (Cornell Feline Health Center).

Calicivirus is one of the most common causes of upper respiratory infections in cats. It is extremely contagious and causes ulcerations and swelling of the tongue, gums, nasal passages, and throat. This leads to excessive salivation, nasal discharge, sneezing, coughing, and difficulty eating. Calicivirus can also affect the eyes, causing conjunctivitis, ulcerations, and discharge (VCA Animal Hospitals).

While most upper respiratory infections are mild, secondary bacterial infections can develop and lead to more severe pneumonia-like symptoms. Prompt veterinary care is important, as untreated infections can be fatal in kittens or debilitated cats.


Obstructions in a cat’s airways can also cause coughing episodes that may sound like coughing up a hairball. Foreign objects like grass, seeds, or small toys can become lodged in the throat or windpipe, irritating the airways and triggering coughing as the body tries to expel them. Tumors or growths in the airways, especially in older cats, can also obstruct airflow and stimulate coughing. Even narrowing of the airways themselves, known medically as stenosis, can produce coughing. Airway narrowing can occur due to inflammation, scarring from past infections, or accumulation of mucus and debris.

Cats with obstructions may cough frequently as their body tries to clear the blockage. Coughing episodes may be intense but intermittent. There may be gagging or retching motions as well. Obstructions are an emergency situation and require rapid veterinary attention. Diagnostic imaging like X-rays or endoscopy can locate foreign objects or tumors responsible for the obstruction. Treatments will focus on safely removing the obstruction to open up the airways.



There are several diagnostic tests veterinarians can use to determine the cause of a cat’s cough when no hairball is produced:

  • Chest X-rays – X-rays allow veterinarians to see the lungs, heart, and airways for signs of disease or foreign objects. X-rays can reveal pneumonia, tumors, fluid in the lungs, or enlarged lymph nodes (Trudell, Why is My Cat Coughing).
  • Endoscopy – A small camera on a flexible tube allows vets to examine the airways and lungs. Endoscopy can identify obstructions, inflammation, and tumors (VCA Hospitals, Coughing in Cats).
  • Bronchoscopy – A small camera inserted through the mouth to examine the airways. Bronchoscopy is useful for identifying obstructions and collecting samples (VCA Hospitals, Coughing in Cats).
  • Blood tests – Bloodwork provides information about organ function, inflammation, and infections. Changes in white blood cells can indicate pneumonia or asthma (VCA Hospitals, Coughing in Cats).

Veterinarians may perform multiple diagnostic tests to pinpoint the cause of a cough when no hairball is produced. The results help vets determine the appropriate treatment.


The treatment for a coughing cat depends on the underlying cause. According to experts at VCAA Animal Hospitals, asthma is treated with steroids like prednisone to reduce inflammation in the airways. Bacterial and viral respiratory infections are treated with appropriate antibiotics or antivirals. If heartworm is the cause, a veterinarian may recommend heartworm preventatives. For obstructions like hairballs or foreign objects, treatment involves lubricating the airways and either allowing the object to pass naturally or surgically removing it. If allergies are to blame, preventing exposure to allergens and medications like antihistamines may help.

Trudell Animal Health recommends several at-home remedies that may soothe a cough, like using a humidifier to provide moisture, elevating food and water bowls, and keeping cats calm and relaxed. However, persistent coughing should always be evaluated by a veterinarian, as coughs can indicate serious medical issues. With proper diagnosis and treatment guided by a vet, coughing cats can recover and live happy lives.


There are several ways to help prevent coughing episodes in cats:

Keep your cat’s environment clean to reduce irritants. Vacuum frequently, change litter boxes regularly, and use air filters and purifiers. Reduce exposure to smoke, dust, pollen, and other allergens that can trigger coughing (https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/coughing-in-cats).

Give your cat asthma medications as prescribed by your vet to control inflammation in the airways. Common medications include corticosteroids like prednisolone and bronchodilators such as terbutaline (https://www.trudellanimalhealth.com/cats/why-my-cat-coughing).

Avoid exposing your cat to irritants like perfumes, cigarette smoke, dust, and aerosol sprays that can trigger coughing. Keep your cat indoors to reduce contact with these outdoor allergens and pollutants.

Monitor your cat for any signs of respiratory illness and seek prompt veterinary care for diagnosis and treatment. Treating infections early can help prevent prolonged coughing episodes.

Make sure your cat stays up-to-date on vaccines and parasite preventatives, which can reduce the risk of some infections that cause coughing.

When to See a Vet

There are certain symptoms that indicate your cat’s cough requires urgent veterinary attention. According to the Veterinary Emergency Group [1], you should take your cat to the vet immediately if they are showing any of the following signs along with coughing:

  • Difficulty breathing or open-mouth breathing
  • Blueish gums or tongue
  • Collapsing or inability to stand
  • Severe lethargy or weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Coughing up blood

These symptoms can indicate potentially life-threatening conditions like pneumonia, fluid in the lungs, or a foreign body obstruction. Your vet will be able to run diagnostic tests and provide proper emergency care to address the underlying issue. Don’t wait with severe coughing episodes, as timely treatment greatly improves the chances of recovery.

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