Ask a veterinarian: Feline asthma
With Dr. Katy Burr, DVM
Feline asthma is a respiratory condition that constricts the lung’s airways. Similar to asthma in humans, these airways can become inflamed and make it difficult for your cat to breathe. Things like stress and allergens in the environment are common triggers for feline asthma.
Feline asthma usually develops in cats between the ages of two and eight years old, and tends to be more common in female cats, as well as Siamese and Himalayan breeds.
Cases can vary from mild to severe, and may include any of the following symptoms:
- Coughing or hacking (often confused with hacking up a hairball)
- Rapid or labored breathing
- Open mouth breathing or panting
- Weakness and lethargy
- Blue lips and gums
- Coughing up mucus
Symptoms will be more extreme during an asthma attack—if you believe your cat may be suffering from an asthma attack, seek veterinary attention right away.
There is no single test to diagnose asthma, and it can be hard to diagnose. If your cat has a more mild case of asthma, your veterinarian may need to run a series of tests to rule out other causes. They may listen to your cat’s chest, take a blood test to check for an allergic response, or conduct a chest x-ray to look at your cat’s lungs. Your veterinarian may also want to take samples of mucus and fluid from deep within the airways, either by a procedure called a transtracheal wash or a bronchoalveolar lavage. They may also decide to perform a special fecal test to evaluate for a lung parasite for which symptoms can mimic asthma.
If your cat is diagnosed with this condition, there are options available to help your cat live a happy, healthy life. While feline asthma is incurable, it is manageable with proper medication and care. Your veterinarian may prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs such as corticosteroids to help keep symptoms at bay. Bronchodilators can also help widen air passages. Your veterinarian may discuss giving the corticosteroid or the bronchodilator medications orally or with an inhaler. A special modified applicator can be purchased so that inhalers designed for humans can be safely and effectively given to your cat. Most cats can be trained to accept this device, and many owners find this method of medication administration to be easier and more effective than oral pills.
You can help prevent asthmatic symptoms in your cat by minimizing any irritants in their environment. In general, avoid smoking and spraying perfumes in the home, use a dustless, unscented cat litter, and utilize air filters at home.
Pet allergies can also exacerbate asthma symptoms in your cat. Your veterinarian can conduct an allergy test to help identify any allergens, like pollen, so you can eliminate triggers when possible.
Stress is also a common trigger, so try and create a relaxed environment around the home.
If you have any questions about feline asthma and your cat’s health, consult your veterinarian for expert advice.