What is Feline Asthma?
Feline asthma is a disease of the respiratory system much like asthma seen in humans. The airways become constricted, narrowed and inflamed, causing difficulty in breathing, wheezing and coughing. The severity may range from mild to life-threatening. Although asthma is not curable, it can be managed.
As asthma can progress quickly into a life threatening condition, any cat showing these symptoms needs veterinary assessment. Siamese and Himalayan breeds appear to be genetically more predisposed to the condition and asthma may be more evident and/or severe in the young and elderly.
What are the causes?
It is thought that allergens inhaled into the respiratory system trigger an allergic bronchitis. Potential triggers are air fresheners, cigarette smoke, dusty cat litter, hairspray and cleaning products. Pre-existing heart problems, parasites, extreme stress, cold weather and obesity are thought to play a significant role too. When the affecting allergen is inhaled, it reacts with the tissues of the airways causing them to constrict, narrow and inflame. This decreases the airflow while increasing the difficulty in breathing.
What are the symptoms of asthma?
The most common symptoms are:
- Coughing - this ranges from mild bouts to chronic persistent coughing. Sometimes, your cat may vomit after the coughing episode.
- Wheezing - Can be heard while listening to your cat's breathing
- Changes in behavior - your cat may not be able to settle
- Open mouth breathing
- Coughing up foamy mucous
- Blue-tinged gums (in severe cases where emergency treatment is required)
Key Point: Call your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your cat has asthma and you will be advised on the best course of action. For acute attacks, it is extremely important that your pet be seen by a veterinarian.
How is asthma diagnosed?
Unfortunately, there are no specific ways to diagnose asthma, but usually x-rays and blood work point to the diagnosis. Evaluation of bronchial secretions can be performed and parasite tests are done to rule out other causes such as heartworm.
What is the treatment?
Medical treatment consists of either one or a combination of drugs: anti-inflammatory agents (to reduce the inflammation), mucolytics (reduces the thickness of mucous) and bronchodilators (to widen the airways) are all used in the management. Steroids can be prescribed in severe or chronic cases. Your veterinarian will decide the correct treatment plan for your cat.
How can you help?
- Follow the advice and treatment plan prescribed by your veterinarian
- Have regular check-ups
- Do not use air fresheners, hairsprays, cleaning sprays and other irritants around your cat and limit their use elsewhere in the home.
- Be sure to use a non-irritant and non-dusty cat litter.
- Certain plants and flowers may also trigger attacks due to the pollen. Keep them away from your cat.
- Humidifiers can help keep room air warm and moist. Dry cold air is known for increasing coughing.
- Do not expose your cat to cigarette smoke.
Like asthma in humans, the earlier the diagnosis, the quicker a treatment plan can help.
Content reviewed by a veterinarian