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A Guide To Feline Asthma

Aimee Labbate
  • Aimee Labbate

  • RCVS: 700039


What is feline asthma?

Similar to the condition in humans, feline asthma is caused by chronic inflammation in the lungs. This causes the muscles of the airways to contract, leading to a narrowing of the airways (constriction) as well as an increased production of mucus. These changes make it more difficult for the cat to breathe and can also lead to coughing.

What causes feline asthma?

The exact cause is poorly understood although it is typically thought to be due to underlying allergies or irritants such as dust, pollens, tobacco smoke, moulds and some household sprays such as air fresheners or cleaners.

The condition usually develops between 2 and 8 years and is more common in Siamese and Himalayan cats.

What are the symptoms of feline asthma?

The symptoms can be variable but often include:

  • Increased breathing rate and effort
  • Wheezing and noisy breathing
  • Persistent cough
  • Keeping mouth open whilst breathing (looks like panting)
  • Laboured breathing that can occur suddenly and without warning
  • Lethargy and weakness
  • Blue lips and gums

If you notice any of the symptoms above in your cat then please speak to a vet straight away as your cat may be in severe respiratory distress. The normal breathing rate in cats is between 24-30 breaths per minute; a rate above 40 may require veterinary attention (although please note that if purring or excited then the rate can go up).

How is feline asthma diagnosed?

Cats can present with breathing difficulties for various reasons, including heart disease, bacterial infections, cancer, obstruction of the airway and parasites. Various tests will therefore need to be carried out to diagnose feline asthma. These include:

  • Blood tests
  • Ultrasound examination of the chest to rule out heart disease or fluid around the lungs
  • Chest x-rays
  • Bronchoscopy (passing a small camera down into the airways)
  • Airway washes (bronchoalveolar lavage) carried out under general anaesthetic to obtain samples from the airways to look for inflammatory cells, bacteria, cancer cells and other abnormal changes.

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How is feline asthma treated?

Feline asthma is generally treated using two main types of medication:

  1. Anti-inflammatories such as corticosteroids to reduce airway inflammation
  2. Bronchodilators to help widen the constricted airways

These medications can be administered in different ways – by mouth, injection or using an inhaler. Given that steroids have many side effects, the use of inhalers has the benefit of delivering the drug locally to the airways where it is needed, dramatically reducing the amount that is absorbed into the blood and thereby minimising side effects.

There are specific inhalers available for cats – such as the Aerokat. These can work very well, but please discuss with your vet to ensure that you know how to use it correctly and the best way to introduce it to your cat.

It is also a good idea to try and remove as many potential irritants from the household as possible, including tobacco smoke and air fresheners, for example. Increasing the ventilation in a house can also help.

What is the prognosis for feline asthma?

The prognosis depends on the severity of the disease. For most cats, treatment will lead to a dramatic improvement in clinical signs and quality of life, although it will usually need to be continued for life and sudden acute attacks can prove fatal without prompt treatment.

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