Cat Health and Wellness

Why Does My Cat Choke After Drinking Water?

Despite many felines seeming reluctant to drink, cats need water to flourish. This means that your cat must consume fresh, clean water regularly. If your cat chokes or gags after drinking water, then something has happened to trigger this response.

If your cat chokes while drinking water, it may have drunk it too fast. Check the water is not too cold, as this is harder to swallow. A cat wheezing and gagging after drinking may have a blocked throat. Other cats have an allergy to their drinking vessels, which is common with plastic bowls.

A cat having a hard time drinking water could die within days. Healthy cats live close to the edge of dehydration already. If your cat keeps choking on water, it will not consume enough liquid if it faces a new challenge.

My Cat Gags After Drinking Water

A cat that chokes after drinking water is likely experiencing a tracheal collapse. This is a narrowing of the cat’s airways. This makes swallowing increasingly difficult. Your cat will also struggle to eat, and even breathe.

Tracheal collapse is not always as serious as it sounds. Occasionally, it will be a temporary reaction, with your cat’s body acting on instinct. One example of this is that your cat inhaled while drinking water. This will cause a gag reflex in cats.

Your cat’s throat attempted to perform two separate tasks concurrently. This leads to short, one-off gagging or coughing. The cat will recover from this quickly and will soon be able to drink again.

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 in 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 likelier to make your cat feel safe and comfortable while hydrating. Review the ingredients of any food or treats you offer a cat, too. 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:

Cats frequently do not drink as much water as they should. While frustrating, it can be a blessing in disguise. You will easily recognize if your cat is hydrating to excess.

Scent or Taste Issues

Water has a reputation as being tasteless, but this is not the case with 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 such an investment.

Water Too Cold

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

If you want to offer your cat ice, do so sparingly. One or two cubes will be fine. You can also give your cat further ice to play with in a dish. Your cat can lick this ice cube and seek hydration this way. Frozen treats, such as sliced watermelon, will also work.

Full or Empty Stomach

Cats need to time their consumption of water carefully. 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 easier 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 even three servings.

This provides the cat with necessary calories, vitamins, and minerals without gorging on one single meal. It also prevents the cat from starving itself all day, waiting to eat once. The cat’s digestion will then adjust to consuming and burning calories. In turn, it makes 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, 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 eat or drink further, 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 and blockages.

Pre-existing Throat Obstructions

If the water is clear of foreign objects, the cat may have an existing obstruction in the throat. This is presenting anything from making its way into the cat’s body. Once the water hits 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 managed as a priority. Treatment will depend upon the cause of the blockage.


Hairballs are arguably 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. They may become trapped in the throat if they are too large to swallow 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 left to swallow.

If your cat has a hairball in its throat, offer a teaspoon of edible oil. Fish oil is recommended. This will dampen the hairball and reduce it in density. It will also lubricate the throat, making swallowing easier. Fish oil is also packed with goodness that will benefit your cat.

Undigested Food

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

This becomes commonplace in senior cats, who have weaker teeth. The cat is struggling to break down the 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 from blocking the throat.


If you offer your cat butcher’s meat as a treat, ensure it is deboned first. Small bones, especially chicken and fish bones, can be 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. These serve many purposes. A collar can hold an identity tag in case your cat gets lost. A belled collar will announce your cat’s presence, making it easier to find and protecting wildlife. Flea collars keep parasites off your cat.

If you choose to use a collar, ensure it fits properly. Measure your cat’s neck before purchasing and check for changes in size over time. A tight collar will choke your cat, making swallowing water 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 is living with a polyp or tumor. Treatment depends on the condition of the growth. Some can be surgically removed, while others will require chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

cat coughs after drinking from fountain

Poor Heart Health

Keep an eye on your cat’s health and demeanor. Gagging after drinking water could be due to a health concern. You must be vigilant in watching out for other signs of sickness. This is not always obvious, as cats hide illness well.

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

Heart problems are the likeliest concern in this instance. The Journal of Veterinary Cardiology confirms 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

Cats can be prone to respiratory infections, akin to the human flu or common cold. Cats cannot catch these viruses from owners. 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.

Naturally, this can become an issue. 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.


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. It is likelier that the cat is allergic to its drinking vessel, though.

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 allergy is typically 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. Do not wait for a problem to arise and then resolve it. Be proactive. Ensure that your cat can always keep water down. To give your cat the best possible chance of drinking water freely:

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

If you follow these steps, your cat will slip into a reliable and safe drinking routine. This will help your cat remain hydrated and healthy. 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, this is a one-off and nothing to worry about. If it becomes a regular occurrence, you’ll definitely need to take action. Any gagging or choking that repeats for 24 hours or longer merits intervention.