Feline asthma or bronchitis is a relatively common condition in cats. This condition occurs when your cat is exposed to a certain irritating substance that causes an allergic response. This response results in a narrowing of the airways and difficulty breathing for your cat. Additionally, the body’s inflammatory response allows for the buildup of mucous in the airways that can cause additional problems.
Adult cats between the ages of 2-8 are most commonly diagnosed with asthma. Siamese cats and overweight animals are also at an increased risk. Symptoms of feline asthma can include coughing, difficulty breathing, open-mouth breathing, sneezing, vomiting, mucous discharge and wheezing.
There are a large variety of substances that can trigger your cat’s allergic response. These are often inhaled irritants including cat litter dust, cigarette smoke, hairsprays or perfumes, pollens or molds. Other less common causes of feline asthma can include viruses, bacteria and heartworms or lungworms.
Diagnosing feline asthma usually requires complete blood work and a radiograph (x-ray). The blood work is useful in determining whether a secondary bacterial infection is present in your cat’s respiratory system as well as whether they are having an allergic response. A radiograph will allow the veterinarian to see if there have been any chronic changes to the lungs which are common in feline asthma. Additional testing including biopsy of the airway tissues with a scope can be done in an attempt to identify exactly what is causing the asthma.
In most cases, however, the exact cause is not able to be determined and our feline friends are managed medically. This includes limiting their exposure to some of the more common and easily avoided irritants (cigarette smoke, dusty cat litter, perfumes, etc). It also includes placing your pet on medication to manage their symptoms. Oral steroids are the most common treatment for feline asthma and typically work very well. Ideally owners will try to decrease this medication to the lowest effective dose, increasing again if their pet has an obvious flare-up. Antibiotics are also used in some cases if a bacterial infection is suspected. Though most cats can be managed very well with just a few medications it is important to pay close attention to the way your pet is acting and feeling. If they suddenly begin having trouble breathing or their medication seems to stop working it is imperative that you contact your veterinarian immediately. In some cases your cat may require oxygen therapy and additional medications to recover from a particularly serious episode.