Asthma in cats

Cats, like humans, can get asthma. It is a respiratory disease that can affect both females and males. Asthma is an inflammation of the cat's airways that occurs, for example, when the cat breathes in a substance it cannot tolerate, an allergen. It can cause breathing difficulties and the severity of the symptoms differs between individuals.

Symptoms of asthma in cats

The symptoms most commonly noticed by the cat owner are that the cat has a dry cough and/or wheezing or wheezing. The cat's breathing is often rapid and labored and the cat owner may sometimes mistake this for the cat trying to vomit up a hairball. However, it is important to listen for early symptoms that the cat shows as ongoing asthma over a long period of time can be life threatening.

Sometimes cats will have short breaths where they hold their mouths open and appear very tired and calm. Asthma attacks may also be followed by vomiting and if the cat has recurrent attacks it may eventually find it difficult to oxygenate itself properly.

Asthma or something else

It is not easy to determine that a cat has asthma. Many other causes can produce the same symptoms, which make the diagnosis when other diseases are ruled out. These can include heart problems, parasites, fluid in the lungs, pneumonia, infections and tumours. The vet can sometimes hear an amplified breathing sound when listening to the lungs and often X-rays are taken of the cat's chest. Cats with asthma often have an altered calm pattern that can give the vet an indication of asthma.

Life-threatening conditions

If your cat is experiencing shortness of breath or has labored, rapid breathing and is breathing with an open mouth, it is important to get to the vet urgently. In this condition, the cat may be deprived of oxygen and collapse. In this case, the cat will initially be given an oxygen mask or oxygen cage to stabilise the oxygen flow and then sedated to reduce stress which can exacerbate the symptoms. The cat will also be given medication to dilate the bronchi in the airways and reduce inflammation in the lungs.

Treating asthma in cats

To treat asthma, other causes can be ruled out. It is best to find the cause of the asthma, but it is not always easy to determine the cause. If the cat owner has come to the vet early and the cat is stable, you can go home and get treatment at home. Usually cortisone treatment is given in tablet form which is anti-inflammatory at first.

At the same time as the cortisone is given, the cat owner is given an inhalation medicine with a mask, called an AeroCat. It may take some time for the cat to get used to the mask and this is why cortisone treatment is also used at first. In most cases, after about two weeks, the cat is switched to pure inhaled medication so as not to expose it to too much cortisone. This is because cortisone causes a range of side effects that can be nice to avoid. Inhaled medication takes up to two weeks to take full effect and cortisone can be a good help initially.

It is important to avoid anything that might trigger your cat into asthma attacks. After treatment, the cat owner can keep the inhalation mask to give to the cat in case of occasional attacks. It helps to open up the airways quickly for the cat.

Avoid this for your cat with asthma

  • Cigarette smoke

  • Very dusty cat litter

  • Unclean home

  • Perfume and hairspray

  • Stress in the cat at home

  • Overweight

Cats with asthma are not cured but treatment is there to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life. Many cats, like us humans, are able to live long and active lives with the support that treatment needs to be put in place for asthma attacks.

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