Swallowing Problems for a Cat

Cats can have swallowing problems.
Cats can have swallowing problems. (Image: House Cat image by phizics from Fotolia.com)

Despite their bossy attitude, cats can still be very endearing and delightful to have in a household; however, sickness or health problems can bring the owner--as well as the animal--anxiety and apprehension. In its life, a cat can have various disorders that affect its health and temperament, and one of these problems is difficulty in swallowing.


The medical term for difficulty in eating or swallowing is called dysphagia. This condition may just be a transient problem that resolves itself in a short period of time; but in more severe conditions, it may cause critical problems that can be serious health threats. If dysphagia continues for a long period of time, it may lead to severe weight loss and malnutrition. Thus, immediate examination by a vet should be sought.


Swallowing disorders may bring about a host of symptoms that are easily observable when present. Among these symptoms are drooling, gagging, coughing, repetitive attempts at swallowing and food regurgitation. Other symptoms include changes in appetite, loss of weight, nasal discharges and foul odors coming from the oral cavity. Owners also have to watch closely for signs that the cat is experiencing pain around the areas of the mouth, neck or head.

Pain Causes

Dysphagia may have many causes, some of which are treatable. Some causes may result in only mild dysphagia, such as minor trauma to the tongue, jaw or other mouth structures. More serious causes could be inflammations of the pharynx and mouth and other serious dental diseases.

Neurological Causes

Certain nerve and muscle conditions can also lead to swallowing problems. Damage to nerves that aid in chewing and swallowing--such as the trigeminal nerves, which aid in the movement of muscles in and around the face--is one such example. Other causes may be tongue paralysis, inflammation of the muscles for chewing, pharyngeal weakness or paralysis, rabies and other brain disorders.

Mechanical Disorders

Mechanical disorders are the most common causes of swallowing difficulties. Examples of these conditions are inflammatory growths or foreign bodies in the oral cavity—also known as hairballs—as well as disorders of the jaw joint, a cleft palate, and enlargement of pharyngeal lymph nodes. Other problems include cancers, masses or cysts in the mouth or pharynx.

Diagnosis and Treatment

The sick cat should undergo a complete physical examination by a vet, focusing on the areas that may affect the oral cavity and the swallowing process. Various lab tests can also be done, such as complete blood counts and urinalysis. Other more specialized diagnostic procedures include chest x-rays, pharyngeal ultrasound, and evaluation of the throat or pharynx via endoscopy. The treatment to be initiated will depend on the underlying cause of the problem. Methods to ensure that your cat receives adequate nutrition should be undertaken. Strategies to help your cat to eat may also be followed, such as lifting the head or neck to facilitate swallowing. Other treatments--such as administration of medications to relieve inflammation and pain, intravenous or direct stomach feeding, and surgical corrections--may be instituted.

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