Feline asthma: Diagnosis and treatment

Asthma occurs when an allergen incites airway inflammation, resulting in varying levels of respiratory distress, more commonly in cats than in dogs, according to veterinarian Bernhard Pukay. Some cats experience mild symptoms such as coughing fits that resolve on their own, while others can have severe reactions that progress to panting and even death in rare cases, writes Dr. Pukay. X-rays help to make the diagnosis of asthma and rule out other conditions. Treatment depends on the severity of symptoms, according to Dr. Pukay, who points out that some cats may only need monitoring while others require medication.

Question: We have a four-year-old calico cat. About three months ago, she  started wheezing and having coughing spells. These episodes only last for a few  minutes and then she seems perfectly normal afterward. She is still very active  and appears healthy otherwise.

Our vet took chest X-rays and told us she had asthma.  We were also told that  medication was not really necessary at this time.  Is this true? What are the  chances that she will get worse and eventually need treatment?  Could this kill  her?

Answer: Your cat has a condition called Feline Asthma, which has several  other names, including bronchial asthma, chronic bronchitis and allergic  bronchitis.  While it can be a problem in cats of all ages, it usually occurs  most often in young and middle-aged cats. Dogs can also get asthma, but it is  much more common in cats.

Put simply, asthma is an inflammation of the airways that is caused by an  adverse reaction to allergens. Specifically, inhaled allergens cause a sudden  contraction of the muscles around the windpipe and this leads to symptoms such  as wheezing and coughing. It is usually difficult to determine precisely which  allergens will trigger a reaction, but grass and tree pollens, house dust,  smoke, sprays (hair sprays, deodorants, etc..) have been implicated.

Typically, a cat with a mild case of asthma will have a dry, hacking cough  that may be confused with gagging, retching or vomiting. These cats will have  episodes of coughing and wheezing, yet can be perfectly fine in between “attacks”.

In more severely affected cats, the coughing and wheezing may become a daily  occurrence and they may experience breathing difficulties to such an extent that  they start open-mouth breathing and panting. In a very small number of cases,  feline asthma can be life threatening. In these cases, an injection of  epinephrine may be necessary during a severe attack.

There are several other diseases that can mimic asthma. Heartworm disease,  congestive heart failure, lung cancer and pneumonia can all show clinical signs  similar to feline asthma. For this reason, veterinarians turn to diagnostic  tools such as chest X-rays or ultrasound, blood tests (including heartworm  testing) and tracheal and bronchial washings (i.e. taking cell samples by  flushing the trachea and lungs).

Depending on degree of severity, treatment of feline asthma can range from  simple monitoring to symptomatic relief of clinical signs. Medications such  steroids, antihistamines, and bronchodilators are usually effective.

Corticosteroids are the most effective drugs for treating feline asthma  because they reduce the inflammation in the windpipe and bronchi.  Bronchodilators are also used in some cases because they help to open up the air  passages to make breathing easier.

While there is no cure for feline asthma, fatalities are extremely rare. In  patients where respiratory distress is not a manifestation and inflammation can  be kept under control with medication, the prognosis for control of this disease  is excellent. Unfortunately if inflammation cannot be controlled, lung damage  can occur and the prognosis is more guarded.


6 Responses to “Feline asthma: Diagnosis and treatment”

  1. If your animals have suffered from asthma & allergies for decades and have tried everything out there like my animals did, there are some highly effective natural asthma remedies that can help you regain your animals health. I have found information about how treat asthma naturally, maybe you can try it now, thank you.

    • Bobbi says:

      Hi, I have a Maincoon , lucky us they are the cat breed most predisposed / genetically to this disease. Her meds which are Cyproheptadine are not working anymore. I am currently trying to find a used Vaso-dilator. Will not give her steroids for side effects reasons. I thought this was my only option. I am interested in any feedback you can share. Thank you. PS she is 4

    • Margie Morinaga says:

      My cat is 3 years old and has been diagnosed with asthma. The doctor gaveConvenia but did not work. Then Clavamox tables and nothing happened. Can you share your natural treatment? I am sure that will work and no side effects. Thank you.

  2. MJ Raichyk says:

    Can roundworms cause asthma? Do roundworms go with heartworms in baby kittens? Would Strongid kill both all such worms? Congestive heart failure seems unlikely. Does asthma’s breathing cause the kittens throat to move — push-out and retreat? Soft tissue’s not much visible on xrays, so what would be viewable? Thanks.

    • Per a couple of veterinarians on our board:
      1. Roundworms cannot cause asthma, but the larvai stage migrating through the lungs can cause respiratory signs
      2. Roundworms do not go with heartworms in baby kittens
      3. No Strongid will not kill both such worms.
      4. Can cause labored breathing but so can pneumonia

  3. Vince P says:

    Just adopted two kittens from a shelter ( brothers ) shortly after bringing them home they started the gagging, choking, episodes. Vet gave them 1cc of Convenia. Didn’t help the one kitten. He still had episodes. Then the one kitten, who hadn’t experienced any issues for several weeks started having issues again. All blood work and xrays were negative. Have them boarded at present for 14 days and getting Clavamox every 12 hours. Being told it is a Bacterial Respiratory issue. However, the word Asthma has been uttered a couple of times.

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