cat hacks after drinking water
Cat Health and Wellness

Why Does My Cat Choke After Drinking Water?

If your cat keeps choking on water, you could try to restrict their water intake. But if you want your cat to stay hydrated, it would be better to investigate why they are choking.

Why do cats choke on water? Anything that causes a cat to drink too quickly – such as stress, excitement or diabetes – can lead to coughing and choking. Also, heart disease and tracheal (windpipe) collapse can cause choking because cats with these conditions have difficulty swallowing.

Whether your cat is drinking too quickly or struggling to swallow, there are treatments available. We’ll help you understand why your cat is choking on water and what can be done about it.

Why Do Cats Choke on Water?

If a cat chokes after drinking water, it’s usually because they’ve drunk too much water, or because they’ve drunk the water too quickly. Many different factors can cause excessive drinking.

Less commonly, a cat may start choking on water if they can’t swallow properly. Several diseases can interfere with a cat’s ability to swallow.

So, is your cat drinking excessively, or are they finding it hard to swallow? Let’s review these two problems in more depth.

Why Do Cats Drink Excessively?

There are several reasons why a cat might drink too much (or drink too quickly). These include:

  • Stress – If a cat doesn’t feel safe when drinking, they’ll try to drink quickly. If they run off too quickly after drinking, this can also cause them to cough and splutter.
  • Excitement – Excitable Cats may run around too quickly after drinking which can cause a coughing fit. This is relatively common in kittens who are still learning to drink water from a bowl.
  • Genetic Factors – Scientists aren’t sure why, but excessive drinking is more common in Bengal and Sphynx cats.
  • Change in Temperature – If a cat is faced with unusually hot weather, or the humidity levels drop inside the home, they might start to drink more than usual. Overheated cats may drink very quickly to try and cool down.
  • Diseases that Increase Thirst – Diabetes, kidney disease, and urinary tract infections can all cause a cat to feel very thirsty and drink too much. This can lead to choking if the thirst becomes insatiable.

If your cat is drinking too much or too quickly, don’t panic. As we’ll explore, there are many ways you can slow them down.  

Reasons Cats Struggle to Swallow Water

If your cat is struggling to swallow the water, this suggests something more sinister. Potential underlying diseases include:

  • Heart Disease – Cats will find it hard to breathe and swallow water at the same time.
  • Lung Cancer – Again, cats with lung cancer struggle to breathe normally and may start coughing and spluttering, particularly after drinking and eating.
  • Tracheal Collapse – This occurs when the cat’s windpipe narrows or partially collapses. A few different factors can cause tracheal collapse.

Lung cancer and tracheal collapse are very rare in cats, but it’s essential to be aware of these conditions if your cat is choking after every drink.

cat choking on water

Is your Cat Coughing or Gasping for Air?

If your cat is choking after drinking, take a close look at their symptoms. Are they coughing to clear their throat or are they struggling to breathe?

If a cat is coughing because they’ve drunk too quickly, the symptoms will usually pass within a couple of minutes. Once they’ve stopped coughing, their heart rate should appear normal, and they shouldn’t seem lethargic or breathless.

However, if a cat is choking and gasping for air, this indicates one of the more severe conditions such as heart/lung disease or tracheal collapse.

Cats with these conditions may become very lethargic, and their heart rate will remain very high, even several minutes after the coughing-fit has passed.

Telling the difference between these conditions can be tough, so let’s explore them in more detail.  

Is a Cat Choking on Water a Symptom of Heart Disease?

Though rare in kittens and middle-aged cats, heart disease is relatively common in senior cats. Cats may have the disease for several months or even years before serious symptoms start to emerge.

One of the first symptoms you might see is breathlessness when drinking and eating. This is because the fluid on the lungs makes it difficult for a cat with heart disease to swallow and breathe at the same time.

If your cat does have heart disease, they’d probably also become breathless after any sort of physical activity (walking around the house or jumping). You might also see some coughing throughout the day (not just after drinking) a reduced appetite, and a reduced desire to drink.

Risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, a diet high in salt, and untreated thyroid conditions. Maine Coon and Ragdoll cats are also more susceptible to heart disease. Treatments are available, but you should seek a diagnosis early. 

Is Coughing a Sign of Lung Cancer in Cats?

Lung cancer is very rare in cats. However, it is called a “silent killer” because the symptoms are not easy to recognize.

Labored breathing, rapid breathing, and coughing are signs of lung cancer but, according to Winn Feline Foundation, these symptoms only occur in about a third of all cases.

If your cat does have lung cancer, you may also see weight loss, lethargy, a fever, and coughing throughout the day – not just after drinking water.

What Is Tracheal Collapse in Cats?

Tracheal collapse is relatively rare in cats. It is worth mentioning here because this condition can cause serious fits of choking after drinking or eating. This is because the trachea (windpipe) becomes constricted and this makes it very difficult for the cat to swallow.

But why does the windpipe collapse? According to Wiley, the windpipe may collapse if a nasal tumor presses against it. Obesity, facial trauma, congenital diseases, or tumors in other parts of the face and neck can also cause the windpipe to become narrow.

Unlike lung cancer, tracheal collapse isn’t a “silent disease.” Cats with this condition experience something called inspiratory dyspnea.

This means the cat’s airways have become blocked, so they must compensate by taking deep, labored breaths. These deep breaths are uncomfortable to watch and sound like a goose honking.  

Excessive Drinking and Coughing in Cats

If your cat hacks after drinking water, chances are they’ve drunk too much or drunk too quickly. As mentioned, various factors can cause a cat to drink excessively.

By far the most common factor is stress. Cats cannot easily survey the environment when they are drinking water from a bowl, so this may leave them feeling vulnerable.

This is particularly true if there are multiple animals in the household or people are coming in and out of the room when the cat is drinking.

Cats who feel vulnerable will drink as fast as they can, and this may cause a coughing fit. Because cats use their tongue to lap up water, this does somewhat limit the amount of water they can take in at any one time. However, rushing can still cause them to heave or wretch.

cat coughs after drinking from fountain

Excessive drinking is not always a behavioral issue – it could be caused by a disease such as diabetes or a urinary tract infection. How can you tell the difference?

Take a look at your cat’s toileting habits. Are they urinating more often than usual? Are they peeing outside the litter box? If so, your cat may be drinking too much due to a medical condition.   

How to Stop Cats from Choking on Water

Unless your vet has told you otherwise, you shouldn’t remove a cat’s water bowl. Removing the water bowl could stress your cat out even more or cause them to become dehydrated.

If your cat has been coughing for several days or is struggling to breathe after drinking, you should take them the vet immediately.

If the coughing is sporadic, lasts for less than 30 seconds, and there are no changes to your cat’s breathing or heart rate, you may be able to manage this issue at home. Consider the following tips:

Help your Cat Feel Secure

If it is safe to do so, try putting your cat’s water bowl on a high surface such as a table. This will help your cat to feel less exposed when drinking. Also, position the bowl near at least one exit. Finally, try not to walk in and out of the room when your cat is drinking water.

Water Fountain

For various reasons, cats prefer to drink running water. If your cat currently drinks from a bowl, you could consider buying a cat water fountain instead. Some cats may feel less exposed when drinking from one of these as they don’t have to put their head down.

Specialized Bowl

Alternatively, you could buy a drinking bowl that releases a small amount of water at a time. This will slow your cat down and help to prevent choking. It should be said that some vets don’t approve of these bowls as they could lead to frustration.

Wet Food

If your cat only eats dry food, consider substituting some for wet food. Wet food contains a lot of water, so it reduces the amount of extra fluid a cat needs to take on. If your cat doesn’t like conventional wet food, try soaking kibble in water overnight.

Low Sodium Cat Food

Senior cats, overweight cats, or cats with high blood pressure will usually benefit from low-sodium cat food. Getting the balance of salts right will help to prevent dehydration and excessive drinking. Speak to your vet about the options.

Try Cat Milk

If your cat drinks water too quickly, try giving them cat milk as an occasional treat. Cat milk is more satisfying, so they will probably take their time over it and savor the taste.

Giving your cat something pleasurable to drink may help to ‘reset’ their drinking habits and encourage them to become more mindful of the drinking process.

Weight Control

Obesity can lead to diabetes, heart disease and tracheal collapse – all diseases which can cause choking and coughing. You should calorie count your cat’s meals and make sure treats are given on an occasional basis only.

Be Careful with Collars and Leads

If you choose to put a collar on your cat, make sure it is not too tight as this can trigger tracheal collapse. Many cats will not adjust to a lead because it feels too restrictive and frightening.

If you do want to try putting your cat on a lead, try to walk them in a dog-free, quiet, and low-stress environment. If the cat pulls on the lead, the sharp, jolting movement could damage the trachea (windpipe). This is more common in cats who are overweight.

Why Do Cats Throw Up Water?

If your cat is vomiting water (not coughing and spluttering), this indicates an inflamed stomach.

The most common cause of stomach inflammation is hairballs in the stomach. Long-haired cats are particularly susceptible to hairballs, but they can affect all cats.

Also, stomach inflammation can be triggered by food allergies, parasites, or foreign objects. Occasionally, watery vomit can indicate pancreatitis or a thyroid disorder.

If your cat has been throwing up water for more than 24 hours, you must consult a vet. If nothing else, vomiting can quickly lead to dehydration, and dehydration is complex to manage in cats.

To summarize, cats cough after drinking water for a variety of reasons. The most frequent cause is drinking too quickly, and by far the most prevalent reason for that is stress.

However, if your cat has a racing heartbeat, is gasping for air, or is more lethargic than usual, a vet must investigate the coughing.