Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the lungs and lower airways in about 5% of cats. The average cat is diagnosed at about 4 years of age. The airways become thick and mucus production increases. Inflammation causes constriction of the airways making it difficult for the cat to breathe.
Asthma sometimes develops spontaneously, for no known reason, but most doctors agree that it is caused by an allergic reaction. The inhaled allergens or particles (cigarette smoke, dust, perfume etc.) irritate the lungs stimulating an immune reaction.
- Coughing or hacking
- Exercise intolerance
- Difficulty breathing
- Shallow, rapid breathing
- Open-mouth breathing
Asthma can turn into a respiratory crisis. During an attack many cats hunch close to the ground with their necks extended. This sudden breathing difficulty due to narrowing of the airways can be life threatening. If you notice any of the above signs, seek attention immediately.
Your veterinarian may perform the following tests:
- Physical exam: wheezing may be heard when ascultating the chest
- Chest X-rays
- Cytology/Tracheal wash: sterile fluid is flushed in and out of the airways, and then the cells and debris are examined under a microscope
- Allergy Testing
Most veterinarians will recommend the following treatments for cats with asthma:
- Remove irritants: minimizing contact with cigarette smoke, perfumes, incense, cleaners, dusty cat litter and purchasing an air purifier.
- Corticosteroids: injected medication to decrease inflammation for allergic stimulation, which is causing the constriction of the airways
- Inhaler - steroids: inhaled steroids prevent continued inflammation with less side effects but take 2 weeks to be fully effective
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids - naturally decrease inflammation
- Allergy desensitization
- Keep your cat away from cigarette smoke, incense, scented candles and perfume
- Use dust free cat litter
- Open windows in rooms when using strong cleaners, and remove the cat from the room until the odors go away
- Get an air purification system for your home
- Remove the cat from any home undergoing construction or painting
Cats with asthma usually need lifelong medical treatment. Your veterinarian my reduce doses gradually.
As asthma is a chronic condition, complete control may not be possible, but with the proper treatment, your cat can enjoy a good quality of life.