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  • Writer's pictureVetMed Team

Cat Has Something Stuck in Their Throat: What's Next?

It's a pet parent's nightmare: noticing that your cat seems uncomfortable, hearing strange coughing or gagging noises, and wondering if they have something lodged in their throat. Understanding the nature of respiratory foreign bodies in cats and knowing how to respond could mean the difference between a minor discomfort and a severe, life-threatening situation. In this comprehensive guide, we'll delve into the symptoms, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment options for respiratory foreign bodies in cats.

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What is a Respiratory Foreign Body in a Cat?

A respiratory foreign body in a cat refers to any object that gets lodged in the airways or the throat, causing obstruction or irritation. It can be a piece of food, a toy, or even something as innocuous as a blade of grass. The object may get stuck in the throat, trachea (windpipe), or even make its way into the lungs. These foreign bodies can cause varying degrees of discomfort and can be potentially life-threatening if not addressed promptly. The situation necessitates immediate veterinary attention to diagnose the problem and determine the best course of action for removal.

Can You Prevent Respiratory Foreign Bodies?

While it's not possible to entirely eliminate the risk of your cat encountering a respiratory foreign body, there are several steps you can take to minimize the likelihood:

  • Supervised Play: Always supervise your cat when they are playing with small toys or objects that could be easily swallowed or inhaled.

  • Dietary Caution: Be cautious with the size of food pieces you offer, making sure they are appropriately sized for your cat to swallow without choking.

  • Keep Harmful Items Out of Reach: Ensure items like sewing needles, thread, and other small objects that cats might be tempted to play with are stored securely.

  • Regular Checks: Periodically check your living environment for any small items that may have fallen and could pose a risk.

  • Safe Plants: Some cats like to chew on plants, but certain plants can break into dangerous pieces or are toxic. Make sure any plants in your home are safe for cats to be around.

What Are the Symptoms of Respiratory Foreign Bodies in Cats?

Realizing that your cat might have a respiratory foreign body can be stressful. However, prompt identification and action can be crucial. Below are some symptoms that might indicate your cat has something stuck in their throat or respiratory system.

  1. Gagging or Coughing: One of the most immediate signs that something is amiss is repetitive gagging or coughing. If your cat is frequently trying to clear their throat, it may be a sign of an obstruction.

  2. Difficulty Swallowing or Eating: If your cat is struggling to swallow or seems reluctant to eat, it could be because something is stuck in their throat or esophagus, causing discomfort or pain.

  3. Excessive Drooling: While some drooling is normal for cats, particularly when they are purring or relaxed, excessive drooling can be a symptom of a foreign object lodged in the throat.

  4. Vocal Changes: A sudden change in your cat's voice, such as a weaker meow or loss of voice, could indicate irritation or obstruction in the throat.

  5. Labored Breathing: If the object has made its way into the airways or lungs, you may notice that your cat has difficulty breathing or is breathing rapidly. Their breath may also sound wheezy or raspy.

  6. Pawing at the Mouth or Face: Cats will often use their paws to try and dislodge a foreign object, so if you see your cat pawing at their mouth or face, it's a sign that something may be stuck.

  7. Restlessness or Agitation: A cat with a respiratory foreign body will often become restless, pacing around and displaying clear signs of discomfort or distress.

If you observe any of these symptoms, it's crucial to consult a veterinarian as soon as possible for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. The next section will cover the different diagnostic methods used to identify respiratory foreign bodies in cats.

How Respiratory Foreign Bodies Are Diagnosed in Cats

Determining whether your cat has a respiratory foreign body involves a thorough diagnostic evaluation. The following techniques are commonly used to diagnose this condition.

Physical Examination

The initial step in diagnosing a respiratory foreign body is a comprehensive physical exam by a veterinarian. The vet may palpate the throat area and perform an oral examination to see if any object is visible. However, a physical exam often provides limited information, especially if the foreign object has moved deeper into the respiratory tract.


Radiographic imaging is often the next logical step in diagnosing a respiratory foreign body. X-rays can provide a clear image of the throat, airways, and lungs, helping veterinarians pinpoint the location of the obstruction. Sometimes multiple views are taken to ensure the foreign object is accurately located.


An endoscopic procedure involves inserting a thin, flexible tube equipped with a camera down the cat's throat. This method provides a direct view of the foreign object, and it's often possible to remove the object during the same procedure. Endoscopy is considered minimally invasive but may require anesthesia.


Although less commonly used for respiratory issues, ultrasound can also be useful in some cases. Ultrasound imaging uses sound waves to create images of internal structures and can sometimes detect objects that do not appear on X-rays.

Blood Tests

While blood tests won't directly reveal a foreign object, they can indicate stress or infection that might result from the obstruction. Elevated white blood cell counts or other abnormalities might spur further diagnostic measures.

CT Scan

For more complicated cases, or when other imaging methods prove inconclusive, a computed tomography (CT) scan may be used. This imaging test provides a detailed, cross-sectional view of the body and can be particularly useful in identifying foreign objects lodged in intricate areas of the respiratory tract.

Each diagnostic method has its own advantages and limitations, and often multiple tests are used in conjunction to provide a complete picture. The right diagnostic approach will depend on your cat's symptoms, health status, and the suspected location of the foreign body.

Treatment Options For Respiratory Foreign Bodies in Cats

Once a respiratory foreign body has been diagnosed in your cat, timely intervention is critical. Several treatment options are available depending on the type, size, and location of the foreign object, as well as the overall health of the cat. Here are the common treatment methods:

Manual Removal

If the foreign object is visible and easily accessible, your veterinarian may attempt manual removal using forceps or other specialized tools. This option is generally less invasive and can be performed under local anesthesia. However, care must be taken to avoid pushing the object further into the respiratory tract.

Endoscopic Removal

For objects that are lodged deeper but still within the reach of an endoscope, this minimally invasive technique can be highly effective. Under general anesthesia, a flexible tube with a camera is inserted into the cat's throat to locate and remove the foreign object. This method also allows the veterinarian to assess any internal damage caused by the foreign body.

Surgical Extraction

In cases where the object is deeply lodged or has caused significant damage to the respiratory tract, surgical intervention may be required. This involves opening up the affected area to manually remove the object and repair any damage. Post-operative care, including antibiotics and pain management, is generally required.

Cough Stimulants

If the object is small and not causing severe obstruction, cough stimulants may be used to encourage the cat to expel the object naturally. However, this is generally not recommended for larger or more dangerous objects, as it can cause complications.

Oxygen Therapy

In cases where the respiratory foreign body has led to significant breathing difficulties, oxygen therapy may be administered alongside other treatments to stabilize the cat's condition. This can be especially helpful in reducing stress and discomfort, giving other treatment methods a better chance of success.

Supportive Care

Alongside specific removal techniques, your cat may also need supportive treatments like fluids to combat dehydration, anti-inflammatory medication to reduce swelling, or antibiotics to address any resulting infections.

Monitoring and Follow-Up

After the foreign body has been removed, follow-up care is crucial. This may include additional X-rays or endoscopic examinations to ensure that no fragments of the object remain and that the respiratory tract is healing appropriately.

Palliative Care

In extremely rare cases where removal of the foreign body is not possible due to health risks, palliative care including pain management and supportive therapies may be considered to improve the quality of life.

Selecting the most appropriate treatment will depend on several factors including the location and size of the foreign object, the cat’s overall health, and the potential risks associated with anesthesia or surgery. Consult with your veterinarian to discuss the best course of action tailored for your feline friend.

VetMed Treats Respiratory Foreign Bodies in Cats

We pride ourselves on our minimally invasive techniques, including advanced endoscopic procedures, that allow for quicker recovery times and less postoperative discomfort for your cat. At VetMed, we understand that each case is unique, and our team of board-certified veterinary specialists is fully committed to providing tailored treatment plans that meet the individual needs of your pet. Don't take chances when it comes to your cat's respiratory health. Trust VetMed for expert, compassionate care every step of the way.


Questions You've Asked Us About Respiratory Foreign Bodies in Cats

Still have questions? Contact us here - we promise we'll answer them.

How can I tell if my cat has something stuck in his throat?

Signs that your cat has something stuck in their throat may include excessive gagging, retching, drooling, pawing at the mouth, or visible discomfort when swallowing. Immediate veterinary attention is crucial for proper diagnosis and treatment.

How do you check a cat's airways?

Why is my cat having a hard time swallowing?

What will the vet do if my cat swallowed something?

How do I know if my cat has a hairball stuck in his throat?


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