What is cat asthma?
Cat Asthma, otherwise known as Feline asthma is a respiratory disease of the small airways in the lungs, caused by an allergic reaction to inhaled allergens. These particles stimulate the cat’s immune system, causing inflammation, swelling, and reactive constriction of the airways. This causes narrower airways, which often accumulate mucus, limiting the movement of air and causing the cat to have trouble breathing.
What causes feline asthma?
The cause of feline asthma will differ between each animal and the most common trigger allergens include:
- Dust (dust mites)
- Cat litter
- Cigarette Smoke
- Cleaning products, perfumes
- Some foods
How Cat Asthma is diagnosed
There are no specific tests for diagnosing feline asthma, but the first stage would be to book a free consultation at your local Animal Trust surgery. In the appointment, your veterinary surgeon will gather information by asking questions about your cat’s health history and performing a full clinical examination of your cat. This will include listening to your cat’s airways and lungs using a stethoscope. If cat asthma is suspected, it is important to rule out infections, parasites, and other conditions such as heart disease through a series of tests.
Performing a chest X-ray or CT scan may show characteristic signs of asthma such as overinflation of the lungs (due to air trapping) and thickening of the airway. This can be useful to rule out other causes of breathing difficulties, such as fluid accumulation due to heart failure, infection, or tumours.
Bronchoscopy uses a small, flexible camera to examine the inside of the airways and collect samples of the cells lining the airways. Cell samples (cytology) from your cat’s airway secretions can be useful in checking for infection, parasites, and inflammatory cells.
How to treat cat asthma
There are two forms of treatment for a cat with asthma.
- Corticosteroids are the main treatment, which works to reduce inflammation in the lungs.
- Bronchodilators may be used in addition to corticosteroids to dilate the airways, making it easier for the cat to breathe.
Both medications can be given in an injectable, tablet, or an inhaled form.
Inhaled medications have the advantage of providing a high concentration of the drug at the site it is required. There are therefore fewer side effects than oral or injectable formulations. Inhaled medications in cats require the use of a specially designed aerosol chamber to help the cat to breathe in the medication. Most cats tolerate this well with appropriate training.
How to spot a feline asthma attack
There are different levels of severity that you may see if you cat starts to show signs of an asthma attack. For instance, a mild asthma attack may be an episode of just coughing or wheezing. In this case, remain calm and give any medication prescribed by your vet. Keep your cat cool and in a quiet area with good ventilation.
During an asthma attack, cats will often appear hunched and will have their neck extended forward in an attempt to make it easier to breathe.
You may see other signs of respiratory distress. Your may notice your cat’s sides may be heaving with the effort of breathing or open-mouth breathing (panting). Audible gurgling and swallowing may also be present due to frothy mucus in the airways. These are signs of a severe attack.
If your cat shows signs of a severe attack, they should be seen by a Veterinary Surgeon as an emergency. Minimising stress during transport is vital. Keep your pet calm, minimise noise, attend your nearest veterinary surgery and keep your car well ventilated during the journey.
How to treat asthma in cats?
There is no current cure for asthma in cats. In many cases, the right care, medication, and management can help cats to live happy and active lives.
Whilst feline asthma is often progressive due to scarring of the lungs, careful management and early treatment can reduce the long-term damage to your cat’s airways. Affected cats can and may still experience occasional flare-ups which can vary from mild to life-threatening.
Careful monitoring of your cat’s respiratory rate and effort, watching out for coughing, and using medications when required, can all help to manage your cat’s condition. It is advisable to avoid the use of common asthma triggers, which include; perfumes, dust, smoking, scented cat litter and aerosols. Adequate ventilation of the home is often most helpful.
Obesity can increase the severity of the condition, so it is important to keep your cat fit and provide a healthy diet and exercise. Stress can also be a trigger for asthma attacks, so your cat’s environment should be kept as stress-free as possible. Stress may be caused by loud noises, other cats, children, dogs, and changes in the home environment.
Recording your cat’s attacks in a diary may help indicate possible seasonal patterns or triggers and is useful to share with your veterinary surgeon. Videos taken of asthma attacks (if safe to do so) may be useful for your veterinary surgeon to assess the severity of the condition and rule out other potential causes of breathing problems.