cat hacks after drinking water
Cat Health and Wellness

Why Does My Cat Choke After Drinking Water?

Despite many felines being reluctant to drink, cats need water to survive. Your cat must consume fresh water regularly. If your cat chokes or gags after drinking water, then something will have triggered this response.

If your cat chokes while drinking water, it may have drank too quickly. Check that the water is not too cold, as it will be much harder to swallow. Your cat may have eaten too much food before hydrating, and there wasn’t enough room in its stomach. A cat wheezing and gagging after drinking may have a blocked throat due to a furball, bone, or foreign object. It may be that your cat’s collar is on too tightly. Some cats develop allergies, most commonly to their plastic drinking vessels.

A cat that’s struggling to drink water could die within days, unless the cause is identified and corrected. Healthy cats live close to the edge of dehydration. If your cat keeps choking on water, it will no longer want to drink because it will associate the experience with discomfort.

My Cat Gags After Drinking Water

There are many reasons why a cat chokes after drinking water. Let’s explore each of those explanations in turn:

Drinking Too Fast

Sometimes, a cat gags because it drank too fast. Cats have small stomachs and can only store so much fluid at a time. What’s more, felines are more accustomed to sipping water than lapping up substantial quantities. There are reasons why a cat feels compelled to drink quickly. These include:

  • Stress – the cat wants to drink and run as it feels vulnerable
  • High body temperature caused by ambient heat or exercise
  • Consumption of excessive salt

Offer your cat multiple water sources around the home. This is likely to make your cat feel safe and comfortable while hydrating. Review the ingredients of any food or treats you offer a cat. If these are high in sodium, your cat will find itself excessively thirsty.

cat choking on water

Drinking to Excess

Drinking to excess is a similar concern, with almost identical causes to a cat drinking water too quickly. The cat will keep returning to the water bowl. Eventually, it will not be able to hold any more water in its stomach.

Regular drinking can also be linked to ill health. Common illnesses linked to excessive thirst in cats include:

  • Urinary tract infections
  • Diabetes
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Renal failure
  • Hypercortisolism (Cushing’s disease)

Cats frequently do not drink as much water as they should. You will easily recognize if your cat is hydrating to excess.

Scent or Taste Issues

Water has a reputation for being tasteless, but this is not the case for cats. Felines can taste hardness in tap water. Cats can also smell cleaning agents, such as chlorine. As explained by the Journal of the Autonomic Nervous System, this activates a cat’s vagal neurons.

The vagus nerve sends constant messages to the brain that govern reactions. This includes gag reflexes and coughing. If your cat dislikes a taste or smell, the brain is instructed to reject the source. Tap water is a common source of this reaction.

If your cat regularly gags on tap water, switch to a different hydration source. Bottled water will be expensive. A water purifier is cheaper and eco-friendlier. If this does not help, consider the location of the cat’s water.

Water may be too close to a food source or litter tray. A cat’s delicate sense of smell will struggle to cope with this. The aroma of food or waste will taint the water from a feline perspective. Gagging will then follow, assuming the cat can bring itself to drink at all.

An alternative that is sure to be effective is a water fountain. Cats love to lap at running water. A water fountain supplies a constant stream of fresh water for your cat. Fussy felines that endure a complicated relationship with hydration will benefit from this addition.

Water Too Cold

Ice cold water can be refreshing on a hot day. However, cats like their water to be as close to room temperature as possible. If water is too cold, your cat will struggle to swallow it. This will result in gagging.

If you want to offer your cat ice on a hot day, you should do so sparingly. You can give your cat further ice to play with in a dish. Your cat can lick the ice cube and seek hydration this way. Frozen treats, such as sliced watermelon, can be a good alternative.

Full or Empty Stomach

If a cat drinks on a full stomach, the fluid may be rejected. The cat’s stomach is already uncomfortably full. Equally, a hungry cat may gag when drinking. The stomach expected solid sustenance and rejected water.

The easiest way to manage this is to keep food and water bowls separate. This should become standard practice anyway. As discussed, cats loathe water that smells or tastes like food. Also, different locations afford a break between eating and drinking.

Consider offering your cat smaller meals at increased intervals in this instance. Break the day’s food allowance in half, or into three servings.

This provides the cat with necessary nutrition without gorging on one single meal. It also prevents the cat from starving itself all day, waiting to eat all at once. The cat’s digestion will then adjust to consuming and burning calories. In turn, it will make water easier to swallow.

Foreign Objects in Water

If your cat starts to choke after drinking, immediately check the water bowl. You may find foreign objects floating in the liquid. Cats like to hoard treasures from the home. It may have dropped something into the water bowl before drinking.

If you cannot see anything in the water, it does not mean there was no foreign object. The cat may have swallowed the item, or worse still, got it trapped in the throat. Open the cat’s mouth and check for any obstruction in the mouth or throat.

If you cannot find anything, take a step back and watch the cat’s behavior. If the gagging ceases and the cat goes about its business, try to relax. It may have been a one-off incident.

At the first sign of reluctance to drink, seek advice from a vet. The cat may have something trapped in the throat. This will need to be removed before it slips into the intestines, causing further damage.

Pre-existing Throat Obstructions

If the water is clear of foreign objects, the cat may have an existing obstruction in the throat. This is preventing anything from making its way into the cat’s body. Once the water reaches the obstruction, it is immediately expelled again.

Check your cat’s throat for any obstructions. Gently hold the mouth open and shine a torch. If the cat has an obstruction in the throat, this must be corrected by a vet. Treatment will depend upon the cause of the blockage.

Hairballs

Hairballs are the most common obstruction found in the feline throat. Longhaired breeds, in particular, are prone to hairballs.

Hairballs occur when a cat grooms itself. In doing so, it will remove clumps of hair that would ordinarily be shed. These make their way into the mouth and may become trapped in the throat if they are too large to fully.

Minimize the risk of hairballs by grooming your cat twice a day. This way, you will remove clumps with hair with a brush. This means the cat will not have much hair left to swallow.

If your cat has a hairball in its throat, offer it a teaspoon of fish oil. This will dampen the hairball and reduce the density. It will also lubricate the throat, making swallowing significantly easier.

Undigested Food

Your cat may have failed to swallow all of its meal. This is most likely with kibble and dry food, which can get stuck in the throat or roof of the mouth.

This becomes commonplace in senior cats, who have weaker teeth. The cat is struggling to break down hard food. If your cat accepts it, switch to a wet food diet as it ages.

Wet food for older cats is designed to be swallowed directly. Oftentimes, it will not even need to be chewed. This minimizes the chances of undigested food blocking the throat.

Bones

If you offer your cat butcher’s meat, ensure it is deboned. Small bones, especially chicken and fish bones, can become trapped in a cat’s throat.

Deboning is of even greater importance when cooking meat. Raw bones are solid and can usually be plucked out of a cat’s mouth or throat. Cooked bones are soft and brittle, often splintering and causing injury.

Tight Collars

You may have fitted your cat with a bell collar. If you choose to use a collar, ensure that it fits properly. Measure your cat’s neck before purchasing one and check for changes in size over time. A tight collar will choke your cat, making swallowing water and food more difficult.

A golden rule is to ensure you can slip two fingers under a cat’s collar. This means the collar is tight enough to stay on, but not restrictive. Anything snugger than this can make it impossible for your cat to drink water.

Polyps and Tumors

All cats can be experience polyps and tumors, but they become more prevalent in senior felines. Growths, whether benign or malignant, can develop in the nose, ears, and throat. These can make it difficult for a cat to swallow water.

The Journal of Small Animal Practice details two cases in which a nasal tumor led to a narrow trachea. This is because tumors and polyps are often lengthy and interconnected. Not all growths that cause gagging and choking of water begin and end in the throat.

Scans and X-rays will reveal if your cat has a polyp or tumor. Treatment depends on the type and condition of the growth.

Poor Heart Health

Gagging after drinking water could be due to a health concern. You must check for other signs of sickness. This will not always be obvious as cats hide illness well.

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

Heart problems are a concern. The Journal of Veterinary Cardiology stated that hypertrophic cardiomyopathy impacts 15% of cats that appear healthy. Unfortunately, this condition rarely leads to visible symptoms.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy sees the muscles around a cat’s heart thicken and harden. This makes it harder for blood to pump around the feline body. This, in turn, makes it difficult to swallow water and absorb it into the bloodstream.

Naturally, as your cat’s organs require water to function, this can lead to further complications. Take a senior cat for regular veterinary check-ups, where its heart rate can be monitored. An echocardiogram will reveal any significant issues.

There is no cure for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Thankfully, the condition can be managed, and your cat’s life extended, through medication. These treatments will take the form of regular injections and ointments for skin absorption.

Respiratory Infection

A feline respiratory infection will be a species-specific ailment. Frequent examples are Feline Herpesvirus (FHV) or Feline Calicivirus (FCV).

When a cat has a respiratory infection, the symptoms are similar to those in humans. The cat will experience lethargy, streaming from the eyes and nose, and coughing and sneezing. Also, similar to humans with a cold, the cat needs to drink plenty of fluids.

A cat’s coughing or sneezing will not cease just because it is drinking. This means that your cat may experience gagging or choking while hydrating. It’s just an unfortunate matter of timing in this instance.

Keep an eye on a sick cat’s hydration levels. If necessary, offer smaller, regular ‘shots’ of water using a syringe. The cat will bounce back faster if it continues to consume safe amounts of water.

cat coughs after drinking from fountain

Allergies

When a cat is sneezing when drinking water, allergies are likely to blame. Cats can develop allergies at any point in their life. These sensitivities can sometimes appear to arise suddenly.

In addition to gagging, wheezing, and sneezing, watch out for excessive scratching after your cat drinks. If you spot this, check your cat’s skin. If it is covered with hives and hotspots, an allergy is almost certainly at play.

If it possible, but unlikely, that the water itself is causing the allergy. Your cat may have developed a sensitivity to a chemical found in tap water. If this is the case, switch to filtered water.

Many cats have an aversion to plastic. Change to a ceramic or porcelain drinking bowl and see if this helps. If not, the allergen may be airborne. Cats can be allergic to air fresheners, cigarette smoke, and other environmental factors.

Determining a cat’s allergy is a matter of trial and error. Once you have pinpointed what sparks the reaction, remove exposure. In doing so, you will find that your cat’s symptoms rapidly subside.

Helping a Cat Safely Drink Water

You may need assistance from a vet to clear a cat’s airways and ensure it can drink water. To help your cat to drink water freely, you should:

  • Use a safe, non-allergenic drinking vessel or water fountain
  • Offer filtered water over that straight from the tap
  • Ensure the water is at room temperature
  • Keep any belled collars or flea collars loose
  • Encourage the cat to drink after small meals
  • Avoid feeding your cat a diet that is high in salt
  • Attend regular veterinary check-ups

If you follow these steps, your cat is more likely to settle into a reliable and safe drinking routine. This will mean that your cat remains hydrated. Never underestimate the importance of feline hydration, even if your cat seems reluctant to drink.

A cat gagging and choking after drinking water always merits investigation. Sometimes, it is a one-off and nothing to worry about. If it becomes a regular occurrence, or gagging or choking repeats for 24 hours or longer, your cat should be examined by a veterinarian.