As a fur parent, it can be alarming to see any behaviour that suggests your cat may have something stuck in her mouth. If she starts gagging, opening her mouth to breathe, or showing signs of pain and distress, then her behavior might warrant a visit to the vet.
Dental problems are the most common reason for cats to act like something is stuck in their mouth. That means your pet could be suffering from simple tooth decay, a tooth abscess, or a gum infection that needs to be addressed right away.
Sometimes, your cat might also gag or throw up for other reasons, such as hairballs, asthma, heart problems, or parasitic infections. In any event, it is worth having her symptoms investigated so that your vet can come up with a treatment plan and cure her condition.
Why your cat acts like something is stuck in her mouth
If your cat starts acting like something is stuck in her mouth or throat, this is clearly a sign that something is not right. Here are some of the causes of this behavior:
Occasionally, your cat might suffer from hairballs as a result of her fastidious grooming routine. If she is a long-haired breed, her chances of developing hairballs are higher.
A hairball is a cigar-shaped wad of fur that develops when a cat ingests a lot of loose hair during grooming. It is normal for most cats to get hairballs. and this should not be life-threatening as long as the mass is passed through pooping or expelled by vomiting.
On average, cats expel hairballs once or twice a month. During these episodes, you will notice your feline gagging or retching as she attempts to vomit the ingested hair. After a few attempts, she should succeed in getting rid of the hairball.
However, it can become a problem if this lump of hair gets lodged in your cat’s throat. It might then block her airways and become life-threatening. A gastrointestinal blockage is also possible if the wad is not passed out through the stool. In either case, you need to see your veterinarian immediately.
Unpleasant as they are, hairballs are a part of your cat’s life and there is almost nothing you can do to stop them. Your vet will likely recommend laxatives or digestive aid supplements if your furry pal frequently suffers from hairballs. Preventative routines such as regular brushing, a diet high in fiber, fish oil supplements or olive oil, and regular hydration are also helpful to minimize the formation of hairballs.
2. Small particles lodged in the throat
Sometimes, cats may accidentally eat something strange out of curiosity. They can gobble up the toilet paper, insects, or even a piece of string they find interesting in their explorations. Unfortunately, some of these foreign objects might get stuck in your cat’s mouth, causing her to cough or wheeze as she tries to get rid of them.
Another similar scenario is if she eats kibbles and some of the pieces get stuck in her teeth. This happens a lot if a cat eats too quickly or the kibble size is too small for her.
If your furry friend is having a hard time expelling the stuck object from her mouth, she might need your helping hand. However, any sign of choking or blockage in the throat is an emergency and you must take her to the nearest veterinary clinic immediately.
3. Asthma attack
Feline asthma is caused by a narrowing of the airways in reaction to an inhaled allergen. When your cat suffers from an asthma attack, the inflammation in her respiratory tract makes it difficult for her to breathe. You will also notice her coughing and she may appear to be choking.
Other symptoms of an asthma attack include heavy and rapid breathing, open-mouthed breathing, bluish lips, and gums, wheezing, and lethargy. If you suspect your cat has a respiratory problem, consider going to the vet to have her tested. It is also best to know the specific airborne triggers so that you can properly manage your cat’s asthma symptoms at home.
4. Symptoms of heart problems
Heart problems such as congestive heart failure can cause chronic coughing and shortness of breath in cats. There are several possible causes of feline congestive heart failure, ranging from high blood pressure to congenital malformations. Over time, heart disease can also cause fluid accumulation in the lungs, making your cat’s life more difficult as she struggles to breathe.
Aside from coughing, other symptoms of heart problems may emerge, such as open-mouthed panting, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, and sudden collapse.
Your vet will typically provide oxygen therapy as well as injectable diuretics to remove the excess fluids from your cat’s lungs. Once she is diagnosed with congestive heart failure, he will prescribe medications to treat the disease and help your furry friend breathe better.
5. Parasites in the respiratory tract
Parasites are a nuisance wherever they live in the body, and there are some that can lodge in your cat’s mouth, causing her annoyance as she tries to get rid of them. In the worst cases, the parasites could migrate to her respiratory tract and become fatal.
There are several symptoms you need to watch out for if you suspect your pet has respiratory parasites. You might notice frequent coughing and wheezing, breathing problems, and an overall sick appearance. It is critical to have your pet checked regularly for worms and other parasites as a preventative measure, and in case of infection, your vet can prescribe medications to eliminate them.
Allergies in cats can cause all sorts of symptoms, including open-mouthed breathing as if something is stuck inside the mouth. If your cat is hypersensitive to the irritants in her environment, her immune system will overreact by producing antibodies that cause inflammation and swelling in the nose, throat, or sinuses. This reaction makes it difficult for her to breathe, causing her to open her mouth as she tries to get in as much oxygen as possible.
To help manage your cat’s allergies, it is important to know what triggers the reaction in the first place. Irritants might include dust, pollen, strongly-scented household cleaners, or perfume with a strong fragrance. Your vet will likely recommend running some allergy tests on your cat to pinpoint the culprits and help manage the symptoms.
7. Dental problems
Cats with dental problems often open their mouths out of pain and discomfort. Your cat might be dealing with a tooth cavity, mouth ulcers, or gum problems that make it hard for her to eat or groom herself. You might also notice swelling or inflammation in her gums, which are obvious signs of dental disease.
The best thing you can do in this case is to consult a reputable vet to diagnose the exact problem causing your cat’s dental discomfort. With proper diagnosis and treatment, your cat should get the relief she deserves in no time.
How to tell if something is stuck in your cat’s throat
Cats with foreign objects stuck in their mouths will behave differently depending on the location of the obstruction. If the obstruction is in the esophagus, your cat might gag, paw at her mouth, have hypersalivation, and have difficulty swallowing. If the airways are blocked, she will show symptoms of choking, noisy breathing, coughing, and wheezing.
Cats suffering from these obstructions have often purposely swallowed a foreign object such as a piece of string, toilet paper, or a bottle cap. Alternatively, the obstruction could have been caused by eating their kibbles too quickly. In most cases, throat or airway obstruction is a medical emergency and should be dealt with by a veterinarian immediately.
How can I tell if my cat’s mouth hurts?
Most cats hide their pain as part of their instinctive survival mechanism. This makes it challenging to determine whether your cat is suffering from a dental problem unless she is checked by a veterinarian.
Although she may be great at masking her pain, there are some symptoms or behavioral shifts that can help you tell if your cat’s mouth hurts. These are:
- Excessive drooling
- Dropping food while chewing
- Shows signs of resistance when you touch her mouth or face
- Loss of interest in dry or hard foods
- Frequent pawing at the mouth
- Chewing slowly
- Signs of dental disease such as bad breath and swollen gums
Your vet needs to check your cat if she shows any of the signs above so that he can address her dental problems right away. Early intervention will relieve your pet’s pain and prevent any underlying dental issues from worsening.
What to do if your cat acts like she is choking
Choking is a medical emergency. This means you only have minutes to intervene and save your cat’s life.
While it may be tempting to try some first-aid methods at home, you should never delay taking your cat to the nearest veterinary clinic if she is choking. Otherwise, it might be too late to save her.
If you have to use first aid at home (or on the way to the veterinary clinic), you can try the Heimlich maneuver or manual retrieval of the foreign object. First, you need to identify what is causing the obstruction by looking inside your cat’s mouth. Keep in mind that your cat will probably hurt you and herself as she panics in this situation, so make sure that you can restrain her properly.
If you find something stuck in her throat such as a stick or a bone, you might be able to remove it using a pair of tweezers. However, if the object is stuck at the back of the throat, never push it with your finger or you risk forcing it deeper into the throat. If a string is lodged in the throat, do not attempt to pull it out as this could damage the delicate tissue and cause more harm. In any case, you must take your pet to the vet quickly and safely, even if you have managed to dislodge the foreign object on your journey to the clinic.
There are several reasons your cat may act like something is stuck in her mouth. While some cases can be easily resolved, others might be severe or an emergency that requires immediate veterinary care.
So, if your furry friend is behaving strangely all of a sudden and looks like she has something lodged in her mouth, speak to your vet so that he can make a comprehensive assessment of her condition.
Image: istockphoto.com / Anna-r