Coughing cat

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The ‘cat coughing’ meme, explained

The meme took off in 2018 and resurfaced again, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020.


Alexandra Samuels


Posted on Nov 20, 2023

If you’ve ever spent extended time with babies or young children, you’ve probably noticed some of their quirky characteristics. The way they walk, talk, and eat is relatively similar, but the way they cough is almost universal. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, enter the “cat coughing” meme (or, alternately, the “coughing cat” meme). Still not following? We’ll explain everything you need to know about the meme here:

Where did the cat coughing’ meme originate?

The image itself is a photoshopped picture of a cat, altered to have its tongue sticking out and its eyes to appear as if it’s looking in separate directions. I know this might sound scary, but the image itself is actually harmless (and quite funny.)

The start of the “cat coughing” meme, however, can be traced back to December 2018, when now-suspended X user @40ozAliah posted, “this is how lil kids cough.” Users seemed to agree. Over the years, a number of users have reposted the same text—sometimes with a slightly-altered version of the meme—to their own accounts:

How did the ‘cat coughing’ meme evolve?

The meme took off quickly after it was posted, but resurfaced when the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in 2020. According to FilmDaily, many of the memes were updated once the pandemic hit. Instead of just kids using the dramatic coughing face to show off their sickliness, adults could, too. One photo, for instance, showed a photo of the “coughing cat” meme, accompanied by the caption: “Me and my boys when coronavirus hits.”

Do kids actually look like that when they cough?

According to a number of adults, yes. Since the meme took off, a number of people took to platforms such as X to post videos of their nieces, nephews, siblings, and other children doing the infamous “kids’s cough.” Here are some of the best examples:

Why do people enjoy this meme so much?

For one, its visual format makes it highly relatable. If you’ve spent extended time around a child, it’s likely you’ve seen them make this face. And even if you haven’t, maybe you’ve been the victim of a coughing fit yourself and looked somewhat similar. Furthermore, the “cat coughing” meme is a lighthearted way to make fun of an otherwise difficult subject: illness. 

How are people using the meme today? 

If you’re considering adding this meme to your lexicon, this section is for you. But, in truth, the answer is a matter of personal preference. Maybe you want to send the meme to your boss the next time you want to call in sick? If you’re texting your friends, maybe you want to use any of the many variants of the meme found online (Pikachu and Sonic the Hedgehog, for example, have had the “cat coughing” meme photoshopped over them.)

For what felt like a rare moment in X’s history, many users could finally agree on something: Kids are strange creatures, but their idiosyncrasies is part of what makes them lovable. The lovable—and enthusiastic—responses to the “coughing cat” meme will have you laughing for days.

Honestly, I still am.

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*First Published: Nov 20, 2023, 8:41 am CST