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What Is Cat Asthma? 

Feline asthma is inflammation of the airways in the lungs, much like in humans. An Immune response is
triggered when cats’ breath in allergens and this causes inflammation of the airways. Inflammation of
the airways makes it hard for oxygen to reach the lungs because of the mucus production and narrowing
of the airways. This can make it very difficult for the cats to breathe.
Feline Asthma affects between 1% to 5% of all cats.

What Causes Cat Asthma?

All cats are susceptible to asthma no matter the age or breed. However, studies show that cats between
the ages of 2-8 years are at greater risk of developing respiratory disease. Siamese and Himalayan breeds
and breed mixes tend to be most prone to asthma.
However, if your cat has asthma, there are several triggers that could be causing attacks.

Common triggers include:

Common Triggers

In most cases, your cat will start showing symptoms within minutes of exposure to the trigger.

What are the signs and symptoms of asthma?

Symptoms of asthma in your cat can range from mild to severe. These signs can be daily, or the signs can be intermittent with your cat normal appearance between episodes.

1.) Heavy/Rapid breathing
The normal rate of breathing for cats is about 25-30 breaths per minute at rest. An Indication of asthma would be if you notice your cat is taking more than 40 breaths per minute at complete rest. This can also be associated with other severe diseases and if this is happening, your cat needs to see the veterinarian immediately.
You may also notice your cat is breathing through their mouth or panting.

2.) Fatigue/Lethargy
Your cat may show signs of lethargy after playing or display signs of breathing heavier than usual. Lethargy in cats is a possible sign of low oxygen in the blood, which can result from constricted or swollen airways. There are many other reasons for lethargy in a cat, so a visit to your veterinarian is warranted as soon as possible.

3.) Coughing/Wheezing
Coughing or wheezing in the cat can sound like they are trying to produce a hairball. Remember cats vomit hairballs, if they are making the noise with no hairball, it is likely coughing, and they need to see the veterinarian as soon as possible.

What are symptoms of an Asthma attack?

1.) Squatting position with neck extended.
Your cat may take on this position during an asthma attack in an attempt to get as much air as possible into their lungs.

2.) Blue lips and gums
Your cat’s lips and/or gums start to turn blue due to the lack of oxygen making it to the lungs.

3.) Wheezing
A wheeze may sound like a whistling or rattling noise which results in your cat’s inability to breath easily.

4.) Coughing/Hacking
When your cat is coughing or hacking this will sound most like your cat is trying to “cough” up a hairball, which they don’t do!

5.) Even mildly affected cats can experience acute life-threatening airway constriction (asthma attacks) and asthmatic cats can have changes in their lungs that will scar over time.

How is cat asthma diagnosed?

Your history, video recordings of episodes, and your cat’s physical examination may suggest feline asthma, but other diseases mimic this condition and may exist at the same time. Asthma is a member of the group of diseases called feline bronchial disease (chronic bronchitis is as well and has a different outcome). There is no single diagnostic test that will for sure diagnose feline asthma. Other diseases such as heart failure, heartworms, lungworms, toxoplasmosis, bacterial or viral infections, and neoplasia must be ruled out. The diagnostic process may consist of chest x-rays, a heartworm test, appropriate blood tests, a heart scan, and bronchial airway cellular sampling with cytology in a process called bronchial alveolar lavage (BAL). This requires light anesthesia, and a sample will be evaluated by a pathologist. All of these tests together will confirm a diagnosis of feline asthma.

How is Asthma treated in cats?

The treatment goals are 1. To reduce airway constriction- with bronchodilators, and 2. To decrease underlying airway inflammation-corticosteroids. In an emergency flare up your cat will likely be hospitalized depending on severity of the condition. During this time, they may receive injectable bronchodilators, steroids, and oxygen therapy. Once a diagnosis is made and your cat is stable, we will discuss long term treatment and options. It is important to remember in most feline asthma cases, cats with lower airway disease require lifelong therapy. Cats undergoing long term therapy for any condition need regular veterinary visits at consistent intervals determined by you and your veterinarian. Most patients are transitioned to inhaled medications as these have less systemic side effects for long-term use. Cats on long-term systemic steroids will need to be monitored for diabetes with periodic blood glucose checks. The goal is to taper the medications, inhaled or systemic, to lowest possible doses to achieve good control of your cat’s asthma. It is very important that you adhere to the recommended follow up schedule and contact us or come into the hospital in the case of life-threatening attacks.

*Inhaled steroids target the airways directly, while systemic steroids need to be processed by the body before reaching the targeted area (the lungs).
*The difference between corticosteroids and bronchodilators: corticosteroids reduce inflammation and swelling while bronchodilators relax the muscles in the airways.

Feline Asthma Inhaler Therapy

Inhaled medications have been used to manage cats with bronchial diseases for over a decade. These inhalers will deliver bronchodilators and corticosteroids for long-term management. Learning to use inhalers in your cat, and learning to treat with inhalers by you, depend on routine habituating, the use of rewards, and patience. No attempt is a failure, it is simply a step towards the right experience and direction for you and your cat. Not all cats are willing to use inhalers and that is okay. However, a slow, patient, rewarding experience makes this form of treatment successful. Ultimately, not all cats are alike, and you should do what’s best for you and YOUR CAT.

Choices of Chamber and Mask

The size of the chamber or spacer should be appropriate and designed for the cat. Some have used human pediatric chambers, and while this may work, it is important to be sure the mask fits snugly over the face of your cat for adequate medication delivery. Cat Care Center recommends the Aerokat feline Aerosol Chamber. This chamber is specifically designed for cats with a valve to easily count breaths and two sizes of masks to firmly fit the angular face of the cat. Please see link below:

AeroKat* Feline Aerosol Chamber by Trudell Medical International
The presence of a valve also reduces the noise made by actuation of the medication. Noises may make an already new and stressful situation worse for your cat.

Cat Asthma Image

How to teach your cat the inhaler is a good thing?

Since routines and rituals are important to cats, try to make treatments at a similar time each day. This will also ensure adequate drug concentrations are maintained in the lungs. Each time you introduce the inhaler offer treats or a food item your cat loves. Some cats object to the mask covering their face. These cats can be slowly introduced to the mask by placing a treat or two into the mask without the chamber attached for roughly a week. During the introduction period allow the cat to take a few breaths without the chamber connected. Reward immediately after this occurs. After a while, maybe even a few weeks, medications can be introduced through the chamber. Your cat may need oral medication during the time it takes to familiarize your cat with the inhaler and medications. The key to success is to be calm, quiet, patient, and remember to reward. Your cat may need a longer period of habituation or a shorter period, the important thing is to allow the cat to guide you.

Here are a few links to help with training and use:

What can I do at home?

Avoidance of aerosol trigger are important. This includes, but is not limited to, cigarette smoke, fireplace smoke, dusty cat litters, overly fragrant air deodorizes (fragrant plug ins, strong candles), carpet deodorizers, litterbox deodorizers, harsh household cleaning products (bleach, strong products) when the cat is around. The use of air purifying filters in the home may be beneficial. Monitoring food amount to prevent excessive weight gain may also be beneficial. Decreasing stress as much as possible is a must. Please ask us if you are unsure how to do this or what this may entail for you.

Alternative Therapies for the Respiratory/Asthma Cat?

1.) Feed a hypoallergenic diet. Many of these diets are available through your veterinarian. Try to feed a variety of textures to mimic the natural choices of the cat.
2.) Consider feeding canned food as most of the cat’s diet if this is well accepted by your cat. This will aid in avoiding storage dust mites which may be a significant source of respiratory inflammation.
3.) Experiment with uncovered litter boxes and various hypoallergenic litters. Cats do like choices and aren’t too excited about change, so if you are experimenting with new litter, use a new additional litterbox for new litter versus just switching the litter from their accepted litter box.
4.) HEPA air filters and regular vacuuming may be of significant benefit for respiratory health.
5.) Minimize soft furnishings such as carpets, pillows, rugs, and curtains.
6.) Use allergen-resistant bedding and pillow covers if the cat sleeps in your bed.
7.) Have your AC units and ducts regular cleaned.
8.) Supplement with Omega 3 Fatty Acids to possibly aid in decreasing inflammation.
9.) Discuss the possibility of allergy testing with your veterinarian.