Objective To determine the early predictors of respiratory hospital admissions in young people with cerebral palsy (CP). Design A 3-year prospective cohort study using linked data. Patients Children and young people with CP, aged 1 to 26 years. Main outcome measures Self-reported and carer-reported respiratory symptoms were linked to respiratory hospital admissions (as defined by the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems 10th Revision codes) during the following 3 years. Results 482 participants (including 289 males) were recruited. They were aged 1 to 26 years (mean 10 years, 10 months; SD 5 years, 11 months) at the commencement of the study, and represented all Gross Motor Function Classification Scale (GMFCS) levels. During the 3-year period, 55 (11.4%) participants had a total of 186 respiratory hospital admissions, and spent a total of 1475 days in hospital. Statistically significant risk factors for subsequent respiratory hospital admissions over 3 years in univariate analyses were GMFCS level V, at least one respiratory hospital admission in the year preceding the survey, oropharyngeal dysphagia, seizures, frequent respiratory symptoms, gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, at least two courses of antibiotics in the year preceding the survey, mealtime respiratory symptoms and nightly snoring. Conclusions Most risk factors for respiratory hospital admissions are potentially modifiable. Early identification of oropharyngeal dysphagia and the management of seizures may help prevent serious respiratory illness. One respiratory hospital admission should trigger further evaluation and management to prevent subsequent respiratory illness.