What is Feline Asthma?
Feline asthma and chronic bronchitis are conditions in the cat that cause inflammation of the lungs. The inflammation leads to mucus production, constricted airways, and smooth muscle spasms. This condition commonly affects young to middle aged cats. Siamese cats have a higher risk of developing asthma than other breeds of cats.
Clinical Signs of Asthma
One of the most common signs seen in cats with asthma and chronic bronchitis is a cough. The cough is often confused with a hairball cough. You may also hear your cat wheeze. Some cats may have exercise intolerance or fatigue easily. In serious cases, cats will present with difficulty breathing. You may notice your cat breathing hard, fast, or even open mouth breathing. You may also notice a decrease in appetite, lethargy, and weight loss.
There isn’t one test that will confirm that your cat has feline asthma. At your appointment we will first obtain a thorough history and perform a physical exam. Since there are many conditions that can cause a cough in cats, we will want to rule out any other causes like heart disease, lungworms, and feline heartworm disease. It is important to check blood work, do a fecal exam, and take chest x-rays to diagnose the cause of your cat’s lower airway disease. Your veterinarian may also recommend an echocardiogram, or ultrasound of the heart, if we are concerned there may be underlying heart disease. In many cases, we will treat your cat for asthma and see if there is a positive response.
The treatment will be tailored to you cat’s specific needs. If your cat presents with difficulty breathing, this is an emergency and will require hospitalization, oxygen, and medications to help return the breathing to normal. For cats who are not experiencing a respiratory crisis we may use some of the following medications to treat the inflammation:
• Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids, like Prednisolone and Fluticasone, are used to treat the inflammation in the lungs. This medication can be given orally or inhaled via a face mask and metered dose inhalers.
• Bronchodilators: Bronchodilators are used to enlarge or open the lower airways. These also come as oral medications (theophylline, terbutaline) or as inhaled medication (albuterol). Often, these drugs are used in emergency situations or when your cat starts to show symptoms at home despite being on a corticosteroid medication.
• Minimize irritants at home: Many things can cause your cat’s asthma symptoms to flare. Avoid smoking in the house, using dusty cat litter, using cleaners with strong odors, spraying air fresheners, etc. It is important to change your air filters regularly.
Although asthma and feline bronchitis are serious diseases, with proper treatment the prognosis is good. Some cats will only have mild symptoms, while others may suffer with lifelong serious disease.