What Is Asthma?
Feline asthma—very similar to human asthma—is a chronic inflammation of the small passageways of a cat’s lungs. When an asthma attack occurs, these passageways thicken and constrict, making it very difficult for a cat to breathe. This often leads to respiratory distress, which can become grave in a matter of minutes. The lungs may also begin to discharge mucus into the airways, leading to fits of coughing and wheezing. Some cats with milder cases only experience a slight, chronic cough. Because asthma can quickly become a life-threatening health problem, any coughing cat needs a veterinary evaluation.
What Are the General Symptoms of Asthma in Cats?
- Coughing and wheezing
- Persistent cough
- Squatting with shoulders hunched, neck extended and rapid breathing or gasping for breath
- Gagging up foamy mucus
- Open mouth breathing
- Blue lips and gums
- Labored breath after exertion
- Overall weakness and lethargy
What Causes Asthma in Cats?
While there are a number of factors that contribute to asthma in cats, it is thought to develop as a result of allergic bronchitis. Allergic bronchitis occurs when the airways in a cat's lungs become inflamed due to an inhaled allergen or other substance that stimulates the immune system.
Common factors that can contribute to the severity of an asthma attack include:
- Allergens, including pollens, molds, dust from cat litter, cigarette smoke, perfume and certain foods
- Pre-existing heart conditions or illnesses
- Extreme stress
Asthma-like symptoms in cats can also be associated with other disease, including heartworm, respiratory parasites, tumors, heart failure and pneumonia.
Are Asthma and Allergies Are Related?
Yes. Sensitivity to environmental pollutants and pollen can contribute to asthma in some cats.
Are Certain Cats More Prone to Asthma?
Asthma in cats usually develops between the ages of two and eight years old, with a higher occurrence in female cats than males. Siamese and Himalayan breeds and breed mixes seem to get asthma more frequently than other breeds.
What Should I Do If I Think My Cat Has Asthma?
Visit your veterinarian immediately if you think your cat has asthma. He or she will perform a physical examination and most likely recommend diagnostic tests to find out what's causing the problem.
How Is Asthma in Cats Diagnosed?
Since symptoms of asthma can be similar to those seen with other diseases—heartworm, pneumonia and congestive heart failure, for example—it is important for your veterinarian to determine the cause of the attacks. There are no specific tests that prove asthma, but typically radiographs, blood work, evaluation of bronchial secretions and parasite tests will be performed to rule out other causes.
How Can My Cat’s Asthma Be Treated?
While there is no true cure for asthma, there are a number of methods for successfully managing it. Effective therapy may include medications that will open up breathing passages and reduce airway inflammation or modify the body’s immune response. Like in human asthma, medication is sometimes administered through a specially adapted inhaler.
How Can I Help Prevent My Cat From Having an Asthma Attack?
- Have your cat tested routinely for internal parasites.
- Reduce stress in your pet’s environment, as it tends to worsen allergy and asthma symptoms.
- Do not use perfumes, room fresheners, carpet deodorizers, hairspray, aerosol cleaners, etc., around your cat.
- Avoid using cat litters that create a lot of dust, scented litters or litter additives.
- Dry air encourages asthma attacks, so keep a good humidifier going—especially during the winter months.
- Keep your kitty’s weight down and her body active!
- And please remember, no cat should be exposed to cigarette smoke—but if your cat has asthma, cigarette smoke is an absolute no-no.