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Helping your cat with its cough

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Q: My 17-year-old cat coughs when she's purring, sometimes coughing up mucus. My vet thought she has pneumonia in one lung. He gave her shots and oral meds. It did not do any good, and I hate to take her to the vet again because she does not travel well. Could this be congestive heart failure or cancer? Is there anything I can do to help her breathing?

G. H., Lanesville, Ind.

A: "Not getting enough oxygen is awful,'' said Chicago veterinarian Dr. Sheldon Rubin. "Please contact your veterinarian and point out that your cat is not better, and ask him what a next step may be. If he doesn't have a plan (that you find acceptable), consider asking for a referral to an internal medicine specialist.''

Certainly, it's understood just how stressful a vet visit may be for your cat. However, a cat who is having difficulty breathing really is suffering. There is indeed something you may be able to do to relieve her discomfort, but without knowing what the cause of the problem is, advice is impossible to offer. Rubin agrees that pneumonia is certainly possible, but you're right about cancer or even heart failure being an underlying issue, or for that matter a lung abscess or another medical explanation or combination of problems.

Under different circumstances a veterinarian who makes home visits might work out, but the equipment required for the methodical exam required just isn't practical outside an office setting. Veterinarians talk about risk/benefit assessment, and in your case the benefit of visiting a vet outweighs the potential risk.

To help ease the anxiety of being stuffed into a carrier and traveling, try using Feliway (available online and at pet stores), a sort of aroma therapy for cats. Keep the carrier in the center of one room, and periodically drop treats inside it so hopefully the carrier itself doesn't cause as much anxiety. Purchase the spray version of Feliway and spritz twice daily into the carrier, and definitely before your vet visit. You can also purchase the diffuser version of Feliway and plug it into an outlet in the room the carrier is in. Bring the plug-in Feliway to your vet visit, and once you're in the exam room plug it in. Hopefully, using Feliway and desensitizing your cat to the carrier will take some of the nervous edge off.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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