Asthma is a very well-known condition prevalent in the lives of many individuals. It is not only a condition that affects humans, however. Feline asthma is a serious concern that affects between one and five percent of cats.

That amounts to around 80 million cats in America alone. Unfortunately, the condition is difficult to diagnose and often goes untreated, which can lead to a progression of the condition and eventual death. Although it is not curable, feline asthma can be managed and has a good prognosis for cats properly cared for.

In this article, we’ll go over what you need to know about asthma in cats so you know what to look out for as a cat owner in Madison, WI.

Symptoms of Asthma in Cats

Cats with asthma often have chronic coughs. Coughing looks a little different in cats compared to humans – cats typically extend their neck out and make a hacking sound.

Most pet owners describe it as trying to hack up a hairball, but nothing comes up. Asthmatic cats can also wheeze, pant (sometimes with exercise, sometimes with no obvious trigger), experience exercise intolerance, or have difficulty breathing.

An asthma attack is described in the following way: “The cat is at rest, not doing anything at all, or else it’s playing and suddenly stops. Its breathing becomes more rapid, and the cat starts trying to take in air with its mouth open. Its chest and abdomen move up and down abnormally, the breathing is shallow and rapid. And if you listen closely you may be able to detect a wheezing sound as the cat exhales.”

The severity of the asthma symptoms can vary widely, with some cases barely causing an impact on the cat’s life and some being life-threatening.

Diagnosis of Feline Asthma

The diagnosis process for feline asthma can be complicated relative to some other medical conditions because there is not a single test to definitively diagnose it.

Typically, several tests are needed to differentiate asthma from other diseases that can have a similar presentation. These diseases include pneumonia, chronic bronchitis, and lungworms.

In order to pinpoint the problem as asthma, vets often use ​health history, X-rays, ​and bronchoalveolar lavage (a way to collect airway fluid samples) to get a better idea of what is happening inside the kitty’s lungs. Occasionally, more advanced tests such as CT scans or bronchoscopy ​are needed.

Although none of these methods are perfect in diagnosing a cat with asthma, they are all helpful and, especially in conjunction, can help a vet to figure out whether asthma or another condition is causing the kitty’s respiratory issues.

Causes of Asthma in Cats

Although there is some controversy about how far the definition of feline asthma goes, there is a large consensus that it is caused by the immune system reacting to inhaled allergens. Some of the possible culprits for this reaction include cigarette smoke, dust from kitty litter, household cleaning chemicals, and air fresheners, pollen, mold, and potentially food allergies.

Whatever the specific allergen is, when the cat inhales it, her immune system targets the perceived threat with antibodies. The next time the cat encounters the allergen, the body reacts with the antibodies and brings a large number of immune cells to the airways.

Even though the immune system intends to protect the body, the overreaction does more harm than good, leading to increased inflammation.

​The inflammation causes airway constriction and mucus accumulation. All of these processes add together to make it difficult or, at times, nearly impossible for the cat to get enough air to breathe properly.

Risk Factors Related to Feline Asthma

Although asthma can affect cats of any age and health status, there are some risk factors that can contribute to the cat’s susceptibility and the severity of the condition. Cats are usually diagnosed at about 4 or 5 years of age. Both sexes appear to be equally likely to develop the condition. Experts believe genetics play a role, although this has not been definitively proven.

Likewise, there is some speculation that the specific breed is also a factor, but this has not been explored in many large studies. As far as the severity of the condition goes, there are factors that have been seen conclusively to put cats at higher risk.

The first of these is prior heart conditions or illnesses. Parasites can also be a concern, particularly types that affect the respiratory system such as lungworms. Extreme stress seems to play a role. Finally, obesity, which puts the cat at risk for a large number of health conditions, correlates with a higher level of severity in asthmatic cats.

Managing Your Cat’s Asthma in Madison, WI

Management of asthma in cats involves a few different steps. The first of these is anti-inflammatory treatment. This involves corticosteroids, medications that work to reduce the inflammation in the cat’s airways.

These can be delivered in oral, inhalant, and injectable forms. In addition to the corticosteroids, bronchodilators may be used to dilate the airways. Finally, in order to avoid the inflammation from occurring, owners should limit their cat’s exposure to possible allergic agents such as cigarette smoke, air fresheners, and airborne cleaning products, dusty kitty litter, and household dust.

Pet owners should also keep on top of parasite control to avoid parasitic infections. Medications can help to lessen the effects of the symptoms, but avoiding the irritants in the first place is an even more effective aspect of managing the condition.

Asthma in Cats Is More Common Than You May Think

Asthma is a serious health condition that affects a fair number of cats and can have a significant effect on their quality of life. The symptoms of the condition include respiratory issues such as wheezing, hacking, and coughing, but can be difficult to diagnose due to its similarity to other respiratory conditions.

Certain risk factors such as heart conditions and obesity can contribute to the severity of the asthma, and they should be considered in the approach to treatment a vet and owner take.

Finally, a number of interventions can be put in place to lessen or eliminate the symptoms the kitty experiences, and the prognosis of improving an asthmatic cat’s quality of life is good with proper treatment.

Petcare Animal Hospital is here for all your veterinary needs in Madison, WI, and the surrounding areas. If you’re noticing any signs of asthma in your cat, don’t hesitate to call us or schedule an appointment online.

About PetCare Animal Hospital

Since 1975, Petcare Animal Hospital has been serving the Madison, WI pet community with the highest standards of care. We truly believe that pets should be treated like family, so we give them the same care we would expect for our own pets.