Why Does My Cat Sound Like He Is Gagging?

By Tammy Quinn Mckillip

Cats gag for many reasons, hairballs and scratchy throats included. If your cat chronically gags, she needs to see a veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment of the underlying cause. Frequent gagging, choking, retching, vomiting, constipation or straining may indicate a serious medical issue.

Clearing Hairballs

When a cat has hairballs, which is natural, her gagging sounds may be unpleasant, but unless the gagging continues for more than a few minutes, chances are there's no reason to be alarmed. Long-haired cats may have more trouble clearing their throats after grooming their luxurious fur.

Help your kitty eliminate the problem of dry hairballs in her throat by smearing a dab of Vaseline on her paw. She will lick the lubricant off, and it will coat her tongue and throat, helping to dislodge the hairball. Or ask your vet for a prescription for Laxatone or Petramalt. Both lubricants contain fish or meat flavors that will encourage your cat to lick the product. You may also dab your gagging kitty's tongue with a drop of vegetable oil to help her swallow the furry clump.

Brush your long-haired cat often to help prevent the hairballs that can gag her when he grooms herself. Wipe her fur with a damp cloth or grooming wipe after brushing to remove any excess loose fur. If your cat continues to gag after you've helped lubricate his mouth, speak to your vet.

Other Obstructions

Another common cause of cat gagging is quite benign and occurs naturally when a foreign particle enters your cat's respiratory tract. Tiny hairs (cilia) move to push the invader out of the body. This can result in a sneeze or ciliary dyskinesis -- gagging, or a reverse sneeze. A cat with a cleft palette may gag due to the physical obstruction in her air passage, and a cat who has mites may choke and gag due to compulsive fur-licking.

Infections That Cause Gagging

Your cat may gag to clear his sinuses if she is suffering from an upper respiratory or bronchial infection. Because a respiratory infection that goes untreated can lead to pneumonia, take your kitty to the vet if you notice her gagging frequently. The vet will conduct a physical examination of your cat to determine the underlying cause of her gagging.

If your cat has excess mucus or an obstruction in her nasal passages or throat, the vet may manually remove these to see if this stops the gagging. If he suspects a bacterial infection, he may order blood work or prescribe medication for your cat. He may also order imaging tests to rule out pneumonia. Rarely, a cat with an advanced bacterial infection may need intravenous antibiotics to put her on the road to recovery.

Benign or Cancerous Tumors

During your cat's examination, the vet will palpate her skin and muscles to check for hidden masses, which could indicate the presence of a tumor. If a mass is discovered, your vet will likely order a tissue or needle biopsy to determine whether the tumor is cancerous. Provide your vet a history of symptoms you may have noticed in your cat, including vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, food aversion, a rough coat or difficulty breathing. Along with gagging, these may be signs that your cat could have a tumor.

Because cat tumors tend to be aggressive, early diagnosis is important. Depending on the type and stage of your cat's tumor, the vet will most likely schedule surgery to excise it. If the tumor is hard to reach or cancerous, your cat may need to undergo radiation therapy or chemotherapy.

Dental Disease

Chronic gagging can be a sign that your cat suffers from dental disease. Other signs of dental disease include bad breath, swollen or bloody gums, frequent sneezing or pawing at the mouth, reduction in appetite and lethargy. Your vet may recommend a veterinary dentist who will order X-rays to determine how far the dental disease has progressed and prescribe the appropriate treatment.

Treatment of early feline dental disease may include professional cleaning, polishing and application of fluoride on your cat's teeth. The vet will recommend you control your kitty's plaque buildup by brushing her teeth daily with a specialized cat toothbrush and flavored toothpaste. More advanced dental disease may require deep-scaling between your cat's teeth and an antibiotic gel application to heal her periodontal tissues. If the dental disease is severe, your cat may require tooth removal, bone replacement, guided tissue regeneration or periodontal splitting to help her heal.

Gastrointestinal Disease

A cat's gagging may be caused by a gastrointestinal disease. She may suffer from acid reflux or esophagitis, which causes food to back up into the esophagus. More serious causes of gastrointestinal discomfort can include tumors, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome or a bowel obstruction. If your vet suspects your cat may have gastrointestinal disease, she may ask for a stool sample, urinalysis, or routine blood work. She may also order imaging tests to look for tumors or visible obstructions in your cat's digestive tract.

Treatment for your cat's gastrointestinal disease may include a change of diet, acid-reducing medications, oral anti-inflammatory medications or surgery, depending on what is wrong. Your vet will most likely encourage you to provide your cat healthy, digestible proteins and low-fat foods and to keep fresh drinking water available at all times.

Aid your cat's digestion at home by adding a tablespoon or so of canned pumpkin to your cat's food bowl every day. It will coat her gastrointestinal tract with healthy oils and lubricate her mouth and throat. Feed your cat a high-fiber diet with moderate proteins and carbohydrates to keep her physically fit and reduce gagging caused by intestinal disruptions.