Cats have very unique respiratory systems. They can be quite sensitive and show signs of distress quickly. Feline asthma, similar to human asthma, can be a difficult disease to control. Read on to learn more about feline asthma, what can cause it, how it’s diagnosed and how it can be treated.
Causes of Feline Asthma
The main school of thought is that asthma in cats is like an allergic reaction in the lower respiratory tract - primarily down in the lungs. One thing that is agreed upon is that it is an inflammatory process resulting from exposure to some sort of trigger or allergen.
Some of these triggers may include:
- Cigarette smoke
- Perfumes and hairspray
- Dust - even kitty litter dust
- Household or carpet cleaners
- Scented candles
- Essential oil diffusers
- Scented laundry detergent or fabric softeners
- Mold or mildew
- Smoke from a fireplace
- Lack of proper air ventilation
Certain immune cells in the lung produce inflammation. This results in irritation and swelling of the air passages leading to narrowing/constriction of the airway. This constriction then makes it difficult for a cat to smoothly and efficiently move air to and from the lungs. Difficulty in respiration is the end result of all of this inflammation.
Only 1-5% of cats develop asthma and it seems to be a disease of middle-aged cats as they are usually between 3 and 6 years of age at the time of diagnosis. Obesity is a risk factor. Male and female cats seem to be equally affected however certain purebred cats such as Siamese may be more at risk for developing feline asthma.
Symptoms of Feline Asthma
The inflammatory respiratory condition in cats was named asthma due in part to the similarities in the signs and triggers associated with human asthma. However, despite sharing similar symptoms, there are key differences between cases of human and feline asthma. Though clinical signs associated with the disease occur in episodes, physical changes along the respiratory tract of humans with asthma such as narrowing of the airways are permanent, but not in the case of feline asthma.
The symptoms associated with the condition can range from mild respiratory signs to severe, life-threatening symptoms that often need immediate treatment. Cats with asthma will initially present with wheezing during breathing, coughing, and hacking, often followed by attempts to retch out mucus build-up along the respiratory tract. If left untreated, wheezing may occur (usually on expiration), open mouth breathing, rapid breathing, increased effort with breathing, or even vomiting may occur. The gums may become less pink or even blue, and the cat is usually lethargic at this point. Oftentimes, they will continue to eat and not run a fever. During acute asthma attacks, affected cats might have a hunched position and extended necks to help them breathe more easily. Systemic signs of illness such as weakness, lethargy, and a decrease in appetite are often seen as the condition progresses.
How is asthma diagnosed in cats?
Many diagnostic tests may aid in the diagnosis of asthma however the most common include chest x-rays, blood work, heartworm, and fecal testing, and bacterial cultures. A very detailed history, log of events, or especially a video of the cat during a coughing or wheezing episode are all extremely beneficial to veterinarians when trying to diagnose an asthmatic cat.
There are many examples of cats coughing due to asthma on YouTube which may be helpful to view.
Unfortunately, there is no real “cure” for true feline asthma. It will be more of a lifelong plan of management of the disease and flare-ups.
Treatment at the Vet/Home Remedies for Feline Asthma
The treatment of feline asthma revolves around decreasing inflammation within the lungs and opening up the air passages so air and move easily. Medications such as anti-inflammatories and bronchodilators are the mainstay of treatment and may be administered either by an aerosol, by mouth, or by injection.
There are no true home remedies for asthma however you can minimize asthmatic flare-ups by carefully monitoring your cat’s respiratory status and by figuring out what your cat’s triggers are.
Is the treatment for human asthma and feline asthma similar?
Since asthma is essentially an inflammatory condition in both humans and cats, treatment approaches are similar across both species. The goal of the treatment is to control the inflammation of the respiratory tract and relieve symptoms associated with feline asthma.
Corticosteroids can be given as anti-inflammatory medications and are usually very effective in reducing and controlling inflammation. Systemic corticosteroids may be given but veterinarians usually prefer inhalants to reduce risks of side effects associated with long-term systemic corticosteroid use. Bronchodilators may also be given together with corticosteroids to help dilate the patient’s airways and help them breathe easier.
Supplements that help control or prevent hyperreactivity of the respiratory tract are usually given to reduce the risks of recurrent asthma attacks in cats. Omega-3 fatty acids and oral Beta-Glucan solution have been shown to control the production of inflammatory cytokines in the animal’s body, which theoretically can help reduce the risks of excessive inflammatory reaction against allergens.
How to Prevent Feline Asthma
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” most DEFINITELY applies to feline asthma. Determining and eliminating, to the best of your abilities, any of the aforementioned possible triggers is the most important prevention measure you can take for an asthmatic cat.
Running an air purifier, preferably one that uses a HEPA filter, simply allowing for good room air circulation or even fresh air, and of course, proper nutrition and water intake are all good preventative measures. Keeping your cat at a proper weight for its body frame is also extremely important.
When to Contact a Vet
If you’re noticing your cat having any sort of change in breathing - effort, rate, cough, pale gums, etc. and suspect feline asthma, you should plan to call your vet as an exam is now a good idea. You can book a video call with us at FirstVet to get an initial assessment of your cat and to help determine if any follow-up might be needed.
Causes and Treatment for Coughing in Cats
Upper Respiratory Infections in Cats
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