- Ashley C., CVT
Asthma in Cats
What is Feline Asthma?
Feline asthma is an acute or chronic inflammation of the airways and occurs when a cat inhales particles of an allergen that stimulates the immune system. Unlike upper respiratory conditions, asthma affects the lower respiratory tract (trachea, bronchi, bronchioles, alveoli, and lungs.) When the cat inhales this allergen, the body responds by attacking the allergen with antibodies and immune cells, which causes inflammation in the airways. This inflammation causes the airway to narrow and increases mucus production. This swelling and mucus production causes difficulty breathing for our feline friends.
Signs of Feline Asthma
Cats with feline asthma may present with difficulty breathing, open-mouth breathing, wheezing, and coughing. In addition, cats may extend their neck when coughing or wheezing when struggling with asthma.
Asthma Triggers in Cats
Along with environmental allergens, asthma can also be triggered by aerosols like perfume, hair spray, and air fresheners. Essential oils, incense, and even cigarette smoke also affect our cats. The best way to help an asthma attack is to prevent it when possible! Though we all enjoy a lovely smelling home, the products that help our house smell good might hurt our cats.
Diagnosing Feline Asthma
Diagnosing feline asthma relies heavily on getting a complete history from the owner. The more you can tell us, the better! Veterinarians can also use radiographs and bloodwork to help further determine a diagnosis. When looking at x-rays of an asthmatic cat, we can sometimes see a brighter branching pattern in the lungs due to inflammation. Bloodwork is also a useful tool. Your veterinarian may recommend a count of your cat’s white blood cells to check for a cell called eosinophils. Eosinophils present in larger numbers when the body is trying to fight off an allergy or intruder, like parasites. Your veterinarian may recommend further testing, such as a fecal sample or urinalysis, to rule out other possible causes, such as lungworms.
Asthma Treatment in Cats
Treatment depends on the severity of the asthma. If your cat has a severe asthma attack, your vet may recommend hospitalization and oxygen therapy. In less severe cases, your vet may prescribe steroids to reduce inflammation in the airways and a medication called a bronchodilator to help expand the airways to allow for easier breathing. If you have a cat with feline asthma, avoiding any triggers, such as aerosol sprays, perfumes, candles, and cigarette smoke is important. Though asthma doesn’t really go away, managing the symptoms will give your cat a great deal of relief and allow them to live more comfortably!