Cat Gagging: Meaning, Causes And Possible Solutions

 As our precious cat friends are unable to voice their discomfort, it is integral for us to decipher the reasons and implications behind their odd inclinations. So, today we’re delving into the mysterious realm of “cat gagging” that can – at least initially – baffle even the most devoted pet parents.

From the familiar hairball incident to underlying health issues, we will try to unravel the enigma of why your purr-ocious mate occasionally gags, chokes, or retches, arming you with the knowledge to ensure your feline friend stays happy, healthy, and ready to chase the next laser pointer dot that dares to dash across the floor.

What is Cat Gagging?

Cat gagging is a condition when your cat appears to be choking, coughing, or trying to throw up, but nothing comes out. It’s usually harmless and may often be a precursor to your cat coughing up a hairball. However, if it becomes a frequent occurrence, it can indicate an underlying medical condition.

When you see your cat gag, their body movements will likely be quite distinct. Typically, your kitty will arch their back, head extended out, as they try to expel whatever might be causing them discomfort. Although it can be alarming to see your little fur child in this position, knowing that it is a normal, albeit worrying, cat behavior can provide a sense of relief.

Causes of Cat Gagging

There are several reasons why your furry companion might unexpectedly start gagging. Below are some of the most common causes so that you can better understand your cat’s behavior and ensure that it remains healthy and happy.


The number one culprit in cat gagging is the notorious hairball. As meticulous groomers, cats use their tongues to remove dirt, debris, and loose fur. Unfortunately, their grooming habits also lead to ingesting a lot of fur, accumulating into a hairball. At some point, your cat will try to expel this clump of fur, hence the gagging noises. While hairballs are relatively common, a regular grooming routine for your cat can help minimize their frequency.

Foreign objects

Cats are notoriously curious creatures. Whether it’s exploring a new area or playing with an enticing toy, they might accidentally swallow foreign objects that can get lodged in their throat or digestive tract. Subsequently, your cat will try to remove the object by gagging. It is crucial to watch for any signs of distress, such as continuous gagging or struggling to breathe. In this case, prompt veterinary care is essential.

Dental issues

Our feline friends can’t tell us when they have a toothache, but dental problems can cause discomfort. If an infected tooth, gum disease, or oral injury is affecting your fluffball, they might gag in response to the pain. Regularly checking your cat’s mouth for redness, swelling, or bad breath can help identify dental issues early on.

Respiratory infections

Cats, like humans, can contract respiratory illnesses that cause coughing, sneezing, and gagging, among other symptoms. If you suspect that your kitty has a respiratory infection, it’s essential to consult with a veterinarian. Timely treatment can alleviate your cat’s distress and help them recover more quickly.


Cat asthma is a chronic and potentially life-threatening condition that causes inflammation in the lungs and airways. Gagging, coughing, and wheezing are common asthma symptoms in cats. If you notice these signs in your cat, consult a veterinarian, as they may need medication or an inhaler to manage the condition.

Gastrointestinal issues

Problems in the digestive system can trigger gagging in cats. Acid reflux, gastrointestinal blockages or infections, and food allergies are possible culprits. Consult your veterinarian if you suspect that your cat’s gagging is linked to their digestion.

What To Do If Your Cat Is Gagging

Walking in on your feline friend – let’s call her Lola – in the middle of a gagging fit can cause an understandable rush of concern. While your first instinct may be to panic, maintaining composure and following the right steps can make all the difference between quickly resolving a minor issue and exacerbating a serious problem. Here’s what to do if your cat is gagging:

Stay Calm

Remember that your pet can sense your anxiety. The calmer you are, the less stressed Lola will be. As distressing as it may be to see your furry friend experiencing discomfort, it’s crucial that you don’t lose control.

Observe Carefully

Understanding the context of the situation can provide beneficial insights. Is Lola trying to cough up a hairball, or is she attempting to regurgitate? Watch her closely for any other signs of illness, such as changes in appetite or behavior.

Don’t Try to Dislodge Anything Yourself

If you suspect that Lola has a foreign object lodged in her throat, do not attempt to remove it yourself. You could inadvertently cause more harm or even injury.

Consult Your Vet

Even if the gagging stops and Lola seems back to her usual self, it’s a good idea to check in with your vet, especially if this is a first-time occurrence. Your vet will provide guidance on what to look out for and when to seek immediate medical attention.

Seek Immediate Medical Attention If

If the gagging continues and Lola is clearly struggling or in distress, or if she’s choking, drooling excessively, or seems to be experiencing difficulty breathing – don’t hesitate. These are signs of a potential emergency, and Lola should be taken to your vet or an emergency clinic immediately.

When to Worry?

While occasional bouts of gagging in cats can be considered ‘normal,’ especially in the case of hairballs or temporary irritants, sometimes the situation may call for more attention. Here are some circumstances when you should worry about cat gagging and consider immediate action:

Frequency and Duration

If your feline friend gages several times a day or for an extended period, this could indicate that something more serious is going on. Gagging shortly after meals could suggest digestive issues or food allergies, while persistent gagging might indicate obstruction or infection.

Additional Symptoms

You should be aware of more than just the gagging; additional symptoms can provide context. Look out for constant coughing, drooling, lack of appetite, lethargy, difficulty breathing, or noticeable weight loss. Seeing these symptoms in conjunction with gagging should raise a red flag.

Changes in Behavior

Cats are experts at hiding their discomfort, but often their behavior can reveal signs of underlying health issues. Changes in daily habits like eating, sleeping, grooming, or using the litter box might indicate problems and warrant a trip to the vet. If your usually lively cat is less enthusiastic about playtime or seems more withdrawn than usual, it’s best to get them checked out.

Gagging Without Producing a Hairball

While hairballs are a common cause of gagging, they should ideally be expelled after a gagging episode. However, if your cat regularly gags without coughing up a hairball, this could indicate a different issue, such as respiratory or gastrointestinal problems.

Difficulty Breathing

If your cat is gagging and also showing signs of respiratory distress (like wheezing, labored breathing, or a bluish tint to its gums), then you might be dealing with a more severe health issue, such as asthma or even a blockage in its airway. Such situations constitute medical emergencies.

Preventing Gagging

Preventing episodes of cat gagging often comes down to understanding your cat’s behaviors and maintaining their overall health. While you might not be able to prevent every single gagging about (think: the unavoidable hairballs), by integrating some essential practices into your cat care routine, you can significantly reduce the frequency and make your feline friend’s life more comfortable.

Regular Grooming

Does the sight of your furry companion gagging unsettle you? No worries. The most straightforward strategy starts with regular grooming. Grooming can help minimize hair ingestion and reduce the risk of hairballs, especially in long-haired breeds. Brush the fur gently and regularly while providing some quality bonding time with your furry friend.

Indoor Safety

Monty, the adventurous cat, may enjoy exploring his kingdom, aka your house, but his curiosity could lead him to swallow small, foreign objects. To prevent this:

  1. Ensure your home is cat-safe.
  2. Remove small, accessible items that a cat might ingest, and secure garbage cans adequately.
  3. Create an environment where Monty can safely fulfill his curious cravings.

Balanced Diet

Pet nutrition plays a crucial role in maintaining overall health. Feeding your cat a balanced diet can not only prevent weight problems but can also avoid many gastrointestinal issues that lead to frequent gagging. Some cat owners even swear by a specially formulated hairball control diet. You could also consider incorporating hairball remedies or cat-friendly, fiber-rich treats to help with digestion.

Regular Vet Check-ups

Yearly check-ups are a must for your royal feline. The vet should be your trusted ally, helping you combat potential health complications, including those that cause chronic gagging. In particular, regular dental check-ups will ensure that your cat’s mouth remains healthy and pain-free.


Keep a steady supply of fresh water for your cat. Proper hydration aids digestion and helps the body expel hairballs more easily. A cat water fountain can encourage your feline friend to drink more water and stay hydrated better than a traditional bowl.

Final Thoughts

Cat gagging can indeed be a cause for concern for many pet parents. However, with the knowledge we’ve discussed today, you’re now well-equipped to understand what your feline friend might be going through and better prepared to handle such situations.

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