What is asthma? Asthma is a respiratory ailment in which the bronchioles in the lungs thicken, become inflamed and constrict during inhalation, making it challenging for the cat to breath easily and fully. It can be acute or chronic. It is also referred to as feline bronchitis.
How does my cat get asthma? Research is underway to pinpoint the precise cause of this disease, but some cats are hypersensitive to certain allergens, viruses and infections. Smoke, dust, mold, insect sprays, flea powders, dust from litter, ragweed pollen, food allergies and bacterial infections can all contribute to asthmatic attacks.
How do I know if my cat has asthma? Cats with asthma tend to make wheezing and coughing sounds when they breathe. They look like they are going to cough up a hairball by hunching their shoulders and extending their necks. Some display open mouth breathing. Symptoms can vary in the intensity and frequency of episodes. Some cats cough up frothy mucus while others have dry coughs. Feline asthma is often identified after your veterinarian performs a series of diagnostic tests to rule out other possible causes. Be aware that symptoms associated with heartworm disease, heart disease and feline leukemia (among others) closely mirror asthma in cats. Common tests including chest X-rays and labwork look for signs of “air trapping” or constriction of small airways as well the presence of “doughnuts” - an inflammation and mucus buildup in the airways. Sometimes X-rays fail to reveal asthma, so a tracheal wash and bronchoscopy procedures may be required.
What can I do about asthma? Asthma can be an emergency. If your cat’s lips turn blue or you see frothy drooling from the mouth or extremely labored breathing, take your cat to a veterinarian immediately. These signs are severe and may lead to heart or respiratory failure if not promptly treated. In mild cases, cats respond well in smoke-free homes and being kept away from foods or items identified in the environment that cause allergic responses. In moderate cases of chronic asthma, your veterinarian may opt for inhalation therapy that consists of steroids or bronchodilators delivered through a special inhaler on your cat to open up the air passages in the lungs during an asthmatic episode. In more serious cases, oral steroids, may be necessary.
Is there anything I can do to prevent my cat from getting asthma? Cigarette smoke around asthmatic cats can exacerbate the problem. Use air filters in your home and avoid cat litters that generate a lot of dust. Limit the use of air fresheners and perfumes as these strong scents can trigger asthmatic attacks in some cats. Finally, strive to combat dust and mold in your home.
Are there certain breeds that get more often asthma? Asthma can affect any cat of any breed or mixed breed, but Siamese and Himalayans seem to be more susceptible. For unknown reasons, female cats are twice as likely to become asthmatic than males. Cats with asthma are usually identified between the ages of 2 and 8. Slightly less than one percent of all cats have asthma.