Asthma in Cats

Asthma in Cats

Just like asthma that occurs in people, asthma in cats is a chronic condition that affects the small passageways of the lungs, constricting them and making them become larger and inflamed. Mild asthma symptoms can be uncomfortable for your cat, but they can become severe within a matter of minutes, to the point of becoming grave and life-threatening.

Asthma affects about one percent of domestic cats in the United States, and is the most common respiratory disorder in felines. Although there is no cure, there are treatments that can open the airways, help with inflammation, and help your cat breathe better. In addition to these medications, there are also preventative measures that can be taken to help prevent asthma symptoms from flaring up.

The Causes of Asthma in Cats

Science hasn’t yet found any one trigger that causes asthma to develop in cats, but it has found that there are a number of different irritants and allergens that can contribute to the respiratory disease. These allergens cause a condition known as allergic bronchitis, which causes the lungs to become inflamed after the cat has inhaled a certain allergen. That in turn, can result in asthma. Some factors that can bring on an asthma attack, or cause asthma to develop in the first place are:

  • Pollens
  • Molds
  • Dust, particularly from cat litter
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Perfume
  • Certain foods
  • Stress
  • Obesity
  • Fumes from household cleaners and aerosol sprays
  • Dust mites

More serious causes of asthma can be:

  • Heartworm
  • Respiratory parasites
  • Tumors
  • Heart failure
  • Pneumonia

The Symptoms of Asthma in Cats

When cats suffer from asthma attacks, the passageways to the lungs will thicken and become inflamed, which is what makes it difficult for the cat to breathe. Many of the symptoms seen during an asthma attack are due to this difficulty to breathe, but the lungs might also start to expel mucus into the airway, which will lead to the coughing that’s so often associated with asthma.

This is the biggest symptom of an asthma attack, but there are others to watch out for as well. They include:

  • Breathing with mouth open
  • Taking large gulps of air, due to the inability to breathe
  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Abnormal movements of the chest and abdomen
  • Wheezing upon exhaling
  • Might stop in the middle of play to lie down and rest
  • Sleep can become disrupted when the cat suddenly can’t breathe
  • Gagging, coughing up mucus that’s foamy in appearance
  • Bluish lips and gums
  • A visible struggle to breathe after vigorous play or exertion
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy

Cat Breeds Most at Risk for Asthma

Cats can be diagnosed with asthma at any age, although it is most likely to develop when the cat is between the ages of two and eight years old. And while both males and females can develop the disease, it is more commonly seen in female cats. Genetics may play a role, but it’s not yet known which particular hereditary factors cause asthma. Although any and all breeds can develop asthma, Siamese and Himalayan breeds seem to be the two at largest risk.

Diagnosing and Treatment of Asthma in Cats

There is no one test that can be done for asthma, and the symptoms are also very similar to those of other conditions and diseases including heartworm, pneumonia, and congestive heart failure. Your vet will conduct a thorough physical examination, as well as talk to you about the symptoms your cat has been displaying to narrow down an asthma diagnosis. To rule out other conditions, the vet will also perform a number of diagnostic tests including radiographs, blood work, examination of bronchial secretions, and parasitic tests.

While there is no cure for asthma, there are different treatment methods that will make your cat more comfortable and make it much easier for them to breathe. The most common treatment for asthma in cats, just like asthma in people, are inhalers that provide steroids and short-acting bronchodilators that help open up the airways and reduce mucus.

Preventing Asthma in Cats

Because there is no cure for asthma in cats, preventing asthma from ever developing is essential. Cat owners can do this by:

  • Making sure their cat is regularly tested for internal parasites.
  • Lessening stress on the cat and within their environment as much as possible.
  • Ensuring aerosol sprays, especially those that are scented are never used around the cat. These include perfumes, room fresheners, carpet deodorizers, hairspray, and aerosol cleaners.
  • Being very careful with the cat litter they use. Litters that create a lot of dust, are scented, or include additives should never be used.
  • Humidify the air. Dry air can cause an onset of asthma symptoms and attacks, so it’s important to put moisture back into the air through a humidifier.
  • Providing a nutritious well-balanced diet to prevent the cat from becoming overweight and more at risk for developing asthma.
  • Providing plenty of exercise to help keep the cat at a healthy weight and prevent them from becoming obese.
  • Keeping their cat away from cigarette smoke at all times, especially when the cat has asthma or shows signs of developing the disease.

Asthma in cats can be very scary for both the cat and the owner. Because the situation can become dire in a matter of minutes, it’s imperative that you call your vet at the first sign of symptoms. While an asthma diagnosis will mean long-term care and maintenance for the disease, there are many treatment options that will keep your cat comfortable and return them to the healthy active cat you know and love.

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