Why Do Cats Gag At Combs?

The reason that your cat is gagging at the sound of a comb is because your cat has very sensitive hearing. It’s likely that your cat can hear frequencies you can’t.

It’s a combination of two factors: extreme sensitivity to sound and the unique frequency the comb creates. The odd, high-pitched sound of a comb running through cat hair actually makes the larynx (voice box of the cat) vibrate, much like it does when the cat purrs. The suddenness of this occurrence shocks the cat, making her gag reflex kick in.

While not every cat will have this reaction, most have some degree of sensitivity to this sound.

Unfortunately, there is no way to get around this and still get your cat brushed. The best you can do is offer lots of positive reinforcement for being tolerant of the comb and eventually your cat will just ignore it instead of gagging.

The good news is that if you’re using a fine-toothed comb, you’ll be removing mostly loose hair and dander, which are the primary culprits in hairballs. So while you can’t avoid the gagging fit, at least your kitty will have fewer hairballs.

Anyway, besides the sound of the comb, your cat may react to other sounds too.

Other sounds that make cats gag

These are the sounds that can make your cat gags:

The sound of crinkling foil paper

“One of the most common ones is crinkling foil paper,” says Dr. Wagner. “It makes them gag and retch. It’s one that a lot of cat owners have seen before.”

The sound of running water

“Running water … can also make cats retch, especially if it’s not something they’re used to hearing. If they go over to a friend’s house who has a faucet that drips all night long, they may be more prone to gagging than at home, where they may calmly watch the faucet drip.”

The sound of coffee grinder

“Another one is a coffee grinder,” says Dr. Wagner. “Many people are up in the morning making their coffee, and then you turn on your coffee grinder, and your cat gags.”

Chinking or tapping of the glass

“Other things would chink or tapping of glass,” says Dr. Wagner. “This happens with cats that have lived with other cats and when one cat is playing with another, hitting them with paws or swatting a toy around. If you do that with a glass, it can trigger the gag reflex, too.”

The clicking of the owner’s tongue

“There’s another one that I’ve also seen referred to as ‘the tongue click’ where people will click their tongue at their cat to get their attention and they don’t like it. It makes them gag, they will retch after they hear it.”

Clinking of coins or keys

The clinking of coins and keys also makes cats gag, especially when they are held in your hand.


The cats are also scared of the thunder and lightning, and there are some who even go crazy when they see a flash of lightning.

Hissing sound of other cats

The hissing sound of other cats can also scare your pet and make them gag, especially if the hiss is strong.

Hammering sound of nail

There are some cats who are extremely sensitive to sudden noises, so the hammering sound will definitely make them gag.

Using a mouse

The clicking sound made by a mouse can frighten cats. The same thing goes with typing on a keyboard.

Typing on a keyboard

This is another sound that cats hate, especially if it’s from one of those cheap plastic keyboards. The loud tapping of fingers against keys can make your cat gag instantly.

Metal spoon clanging in a ceramic bowl

The clanging sound produced by metal spoons can be too intense for some cats, and this might lead them to gag.

Nail clippers

You may not think that nail clippers make any noise at all, but they do! The sound they make can be quite abrasive to a cat’s ears and can cause them to gag immediately. If you need to clip your cat’s nails, try distracting them with treats or their favorite toy so they don’t hear the sound.

What sounds do cats like?

These are the sounds that your cat like:

Classical music

Some people may think that classical music is too boring for cats to like, but there are many cats out there who find it highly stimulating. This is because music with a lot of highs, lows, and beats can be very pleasing to your cat’s ears. If you want to know what type of music your cat likes, you can always experiment to see which sounds he or she likes best.

Sound of toys for cats

Cats love their toys, specifically the ones that produce sounds. These types of toys are perfect for cats because the sound stimulates their senses. You can buy toys that make interesting sounds or you can make them yourself by putting pebbles inside an empty plastic bottle and then closing it with a closed cap. Remember not to use anything big or sharp in case your cat swallows it accidentally.

Sound of its food

The first sound the cat hears is the shaking of dried food in a container. This noise is very similar to the sound of prey moving on dry leaves or grass, and is therefore followed by the cat’s natural instinct to hunt. The food then hits the floor, and this sound is also very similar to the sound of prey being caught.

Sound of canned food

A can is then opened, and this noise is familiar to the cat, as it is like that of an opening tin. Cats have lived off tins for years, so are accustomed to its sound. By now, they are starving and hear a sound just like their favorite tuna being poured onto a plate, which they will follow in most cases.

Sound of water in a bowl

Once the food has been eaten, cats will immediately drink water from a bowl on the floor. The sound of water hitting the inside of a bowl sounds exactly like rain water dripping from leaves into puddles on moist soil (cats love this), so they automatically drink up once they hear it. This ensures that cats are hydrated and happy after eating their meal.

How can you help a gagging cat?

There are a couple of things you can do to help your cat.

1. Get rid of whatever’s irritating the throat or stomach. Either try to remove it using long tweezers or by filling a syringe with water and squirting it into your cat’s mouth.

2. Another option is to try massaging the cat’s throat gently to see if that can move the object down the throat. If that doesn’t work, place your fingers in the cat’s mouth and hold down the tongue of your cat and try to see what’s in there (without putting your fingers too far into his or her mouth). It will help to pass more air into the nose and clear whatever it’s making your cat gag.

2. If the cause of gagging is a hairball, try to get the cat to cough it up by stroking its throat over the esophagus or by giving it something to swallow, like water.

3. If you know what is causing the gag reflex, such as hairballs, you can try one of several pet-safe remedies that helps cats pass hairballs more easily.

4. If you’re unable to find an easily identifiable cause for your cat’s gagging, monitor it and contact your vet if the gagging continues or becomes more frequent or severe.

How does a vet treat chronic gagging in cats?

Chronic gagging in cats can be a sign of a serious health problem. So if you’re observing it, take your cat to the cat vet as soon as possible. Here’s what you can expect from the visit:

A series of questions about the symptoms. The vet will ask you about how often your cat gags and whether it is accompanied by other symptoms such as sneezing, coughing or retching. They may also ask you about appetite and weight loss.

A thorough physical examination of your cat. This might include taking blood for testing or examining a sample of fluid from the lungs through a process known as thoracentesis.

Radiographs and tracheal washings may also be used to collect samples of mucus from the lower airways, which are then examined under a microscope to look for inflammation or infection.

Treatment options vary depending on the underlying cause of the gagging and vomiting, but they may include:

  • Anesthetics to allow more detailed examination of the throat and upper respiratory tract.
  • Allergy medication, decongestant or antihistamine to treat allergies that might cause inflammation in the airways.
  • A cough suppressant or bronchodilator drug (to relax muscles in the airway)
  • Surgery or medication to treat structural damage. If an injury or birth defect is causing chronic gagging in cats, surgery might be required to correct the problem. They might also use medication for conditions like laryngeal paralysis or feline asthma.
  • Surgery for abscesses or tumors. If an abscess or tumor is resulting in chronic gaging in cats, surgery may be required to remove it. The type of surgery will depend on the location and severity of the issue.


What does it mean when your cat gags?

Cats may gag for a variety of reasons, including uncomfortable sounds and a foreign body in the throat or airway. If your cat is gagging, it is important to determine the cause and severity of the problem in order to provide the proper care and treatment.

Sometimes, gagging is like vomiting, but with coughing or retching instead of expelling food or fluids. Other cats gag when they are trying to clear their throat, when they have a hairball stuck in their throat, or when they have inflammation in their airway. While many causes can be simply treated at home, it is important to seek veterinary care if you do not know why your cat is gagging.

Is it normal for the cats to gag?

In the vast majority of cases, cat gagging is not normal.

Cats use their mouths and they’re often more expressive than humans are. Most cats will gag or cough occasionally, whether they’re trying to dislodge a hairball or have swallowed some food the wrong way. Some cats will even make retching noises when they smell something unpleasant or when they’re expressing anger.

But if your cat is gagging regularly, it’s not normal behavior and you should get them checked out by a veterinarian. If a cat is gagging and producing nothing but saliva, it could be the sign of an infectious disease like feline distemper or hairballs that are too big to dislodge on their own.

A cat that’s gagging blood may suffer from heartworm or another serious condition. Even if your cat isn’t showing any other symptoms of illness, you should never ignore or assume regular gagging to be normal behavior.

Why does my cat gag when sneezing?

When cats gag, it’s usually because they have something stuck in their throat. Normally, when there’s nothing stuck in your cat’s throat, he will sneeze freely without having to gag. This is because your cat has a very sensitive gag reflex that will trigger when a foreign object is lodged in his mouth or throat.

If your pet can’t dislodge the foreign object by sneezing, then he will gag and try to cough up whatever is causing him distress. This reaction can be more common with cats that have hairballs because of their long hair and constant grooming habits.

What does it mean if your cat keeps gagging?

If your cat keeps gagging or retching, one of two things is happening: either the cat is simply trying to clear its throat or there’s something lodged in the esophagus.

Phlegm buildup, which is not unusual for cats that spend a lot of time outdoors and breathe in pollen, dust or other irritants, can cause the former. You can determine whether your cat simply needs to expel something from its throat by observing how it reacts after the gagging episode.

A cat that keeps gagging or retching has something stuck in its esophagus and should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Why does my cat keep gagging but not throwing up?

It’s not unusual for a cat to gag now and then. Gagging is a reflex action that occurs when the throat is irritated, and it can happen if something gets stuck in your cat’s mouth or throat. It may also occur if your cat smells something distasteful, which can trigger her gag reflex.

Cats swallow as they groom themselves, and they often swallow hair as they lick their fur. If enough hair accumulates in the stomach, it can form a hairball, which occasionally causes retching or gagging before the hairball passes through the gastrointestinal tract. Hairballs can also cause vomiting, but if you notice your cat is gagging and not vomiting, this could show a potential issue with her gastrointestinal system.

If your cat keeps gagging but not throwing up, this could signal a problem with her esophagus or stomach that needs to be addressed by your veterinarian. The probable reasons are tumor, GERD, IBS, colitis, etc.

What does it mean when your cat coughs and gags?

A cat that is continually coughing and gagging may suffer from an obstruction in the throat or stomach. This could be because of several reasons, such as ingesting hairballs or foreign objects. If you notice any of these symptoms in your cat, it’s important to have him evaluated by your veterinarian as soon as possible.


Cats have heightened hearing sensitivity, which enables them to hear sounds at a higher frequency than humans. They use this ability to locate prey, since many small animals use high-pitched sounds in the ultrasonic range to communicate with each other. Cats are predators, so they’ve developed an extra sensitivity to these sounds that their prey makes.

Cats respond to combs because they have sensitivity to high-pitched sounds, or supersonic hearing. This means that cats can detect sounds with frequencies higher than those detectable by humans. These ultrasonic sounds can trigger gagging, an act of coughing up something from the throat.

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Dr Harunur Rashid (Harun) is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine who has five years of experience in large pet animal medicine. He worked as a livestock officer for two years in an NGO, and since then he has been practicing pet animals medicine privately. He holds an MS in Pharmacology from Bangladesh Agricultural University and a DVM from the same institution.