Do cats get asthma?

Dear Vets:

My cat ‘Delilah’ has been breathing kind of funny lately. Do cats get asthma like people do? Does he need an inhaler or how do I treat his condition?

Obstructive and allergic lung diseases affect many cats and are sometimes called asthma, bronchitis, or bronchial asthma.

When the airway of a cat is sensitive to certain stimuli, exposure to these agents leads to narrowing of the airways.

The inciting agents are usually direct irritants to the airways or things that provoke an allergic response in the respiratory tract.

Regardless of the cause, the end-result is the same: muscle spasms in the bronchi (breathing tubes), buildup of mucus, and accumulation of cellular material.

In particular, the inability to clear the bronchi of this material leaves the cat susceptible to secondary infections.

The cat is most stressed during expiration (forcing air out of the lungs).

Difficult expiration or breathing out is typical with obstructive lung disease.

Air may become effectively trapped in the lungs, causing them to over inflate.

Coughing and respiratory distress are the most commonly reported signs with obstructive lung disease.

Coughing is a significant finding since there are relatively few causes of coughing in the cat.

Also, many cats assume a squatting position with the neck extending during these coughing episodes.

Wheezing is easily heard with the stethoscope and is sometimes so loud that it can be heard by the owners.

Here is a list of common triggers for asthma:

• Inhaled debris or irritants – dust from cat litter, cigarette smoke, perfume or hairspray, carpet fresheners, and perfumes in laundry detergent

• Pollens or mold

• Infectious agents – viruses, bacteria

• Parasites – heartworms, lungworms

In some cases, an underlying cause cannot be identified, despite a thorough diagnostic workup.

Even when the underlying cause is not identified, many cats can achieve a reasonable quality of life with medical management.

It is best to make an appointment with your Veterinarian so that your cat can have a complete physical examination.

The Vet may want to run a few diagnostic tests including blood work and X-rays to determine if your cat suffers from asthma, then an appropriate treatment plan can be initiated.

Most cats will require an oral steroid administered as little as once weekly and oral bronchodilators may be helpful.

Treatment is usually very successful in alleviating your cats discomfort and your cats lifespan can be increased.