Have you noticed your cat coughing, wheezing, or having trouble breathing? Just like humans, our feline friends can suffer from asthma, too. As a matter of fact, the most commonly diagnosed incurable respiratory disorder in cats is asthma. This chronic respiratory condition affects approximately 1% to 5% of cats. One percent may sound like a trivial number, but with there being over 80 million cats residing in American homes, that estimates that more than 800,000 cats suffer from asthma! 

Imagine the relief of knowing what's causing your kitty's respiratory struggles and how you can help them breathe easy again. Dive into our guide on feline asthma, where we uncover the symptoms, treatments, and lifestyle adjustments that can transform your cat's quality of life. Let's embark on a journey to better breathing together.

What is Feline Asthma?

Feline asthma, also known as feline bronchial disease, is a respiratory condition characterized by inflammation and narrowing of the airways, leading to difficulty breathing. It is similar to human asthma and can range from mild to severe, with some cats experiencing life-threatening episodes.

Feline asthma typically affects cats between 4 and 5 years of age, with no significant difference in susceptibility between males and females. While some studies suggest that Siamese cats may be more prone to asthma, this has yet to be definitively proven.

When a susceptible cat first encounters an allergen, their immune system produces specific antibodies to combat it. When our felines are exposed to these antigens again, the antibodies recognize the allergen, triggering a cascade of immune responses. Various immune cells rush to the airways, releasing substances that cause inflammation. This inflammation leads to irritation, swelling, and narrowing of the airways. Additionally, mucus can accumulate, further obstructing airflow. As a result, the cat struggles to breathe.

Cat with asthma.

Understanding the Triggers of Feline Asthma

The exact cause of feline asthma remains a bit of a mystery, but it's generally thought to result from a mix of genetic and environmental factors. Just like us, our feline friends can have allergic reactions to various airborne particles. Common allergens such as pollen, dust mites, mold, and cigarette smoke often trigger asthma attacks in cats. Additionally, respiratory infections caused by bacteria or viruses can worsen asthma symptoms, making breathing even more difficult for your pet. 

Stressful situations can also play a role, as some cats may experience asthma attacks when they are anxious or stressed. Understanding these triggers can help you create a safer, more comfortable environment for your asthmatic cat, ensuring they can breathe easy and live happily.

Symptoms of Feline Asthma

Recognizing the symptoms of feline asthma is essential for early intervention and effective management.

  • Coughing: Unlike a typical hairball cough, asthmatic coughing is often dry and persistent.
  • Wheezing: You might hear a high-pitched, whistling sound when your cat breathes.
  • Labored Breathing: Cats with asthma may breathe rapidly or with their mouth open.
  • Lethargy: Reduced energy levels and reluctance to engage in physical activity.
  • Cyanosis: In severe cases, a cat's gums and tongue may turn blue due to a lack of oxygen.

Diagnosing Feline Asthma

Diagnosing feline asthma can be challenging because cats often appear healthy between episodes of coughing or wheezing. To make an accurate diagnosis, your veterinarian will perform several tests, each providing a crucial piece of the puzzle. It is essential to understand that there is no single test that can diagnose feline asthma

1. Clinical Signs and Initial Examination:

Your veterinarian will begin by observing your cat’s clinical signs and reviewing its medical history. Symptoms like coughing, wheezing, and labored breathing, along with any potential exposure to allergens, are important initial clues.

2. Basic Laboratory Tests:

A complete blood count, chemistry panel, and urinalysis are typically the first round of tests. These help identify diseases affecting major organs. In cats with asthma, these tests often appear normal, though occasionally an increased number of eosinophils (allergic immune cells) are found.

3. Additional Tests for Parasites:

Since parasites can mimic asthma, fecal examinations and heartworm tests may also be performed to rule out these conditions.

4. Radiographs (X-rays):

Chest X-rays provide a two-dimensional view of the lungs. Asthmatic cats can show varying lung appearances, from normal to severely inflamed with collapsed lung lobes and airways. These findings can suggest asthma but are not definitive on their own.

In some cases, additional diagnostic tests could be necessary:

5. Computed Tomography (CT) Scan:

A CT scan of the chest offers a three-dimensional view of the lungs, providing a more comprehensive image than X-rays. It can highlight structural changes such as airway wall thickening and airway collapse, which are indicative of asthma. Additionally, CT scans can reveal other disorders that mimic asthma but have different treatments.

6. Bronchoscopy:

This procedure involves inserting a small camera into the cat's airways under general anesthesia. The camera, controlled with a joystick, allows the veterinarian to inspect the airways for redness, irritation, collapse, narrowing, and mucus accumulation. While these findings suggest asthma, they are not conclusive by themselves.

7. Bronchoalveolar Lavage (BAL) Cytology and Culture:

During bronchoscopy, a BAL can be performed to analyze the cells and bacteria in the airways. This involves flushing a small amount of sterile saline into the airway and then retrieving it for examination. In asthmatic cats, a high percentage of eosinophils can be observed under a microscope. The fluid can also be cultured to check for bacterial infections.

Treatments for Feline Asthma

While feline asthma is a chronic condition with no cure, it can be managed effectively with a combination of medications and environmental modifications

  • Bronchodilators: Medications that help open up the airways, making it easier for the cat to breathe.
  • Corticosteroids: Anti-inflammatory drugs that reduce airway inflammation and prevent asthma attacks.
  • Inhalers: Specially designed inhalers deliver medication directly to the lungs, minimizing systemic side effects.
  • Environmental Control: Reducing exposure to allergens by using air purifiers, avoiding smoking indoors, using dustless cat litter, regularly replacing air filters, and keeping the living area clean.

Cat with asthma.

Working with Your Veterinarian: The Key to Supporting Your Cat with Asthma

Feline asthma can be a challenging condition, but with the right approach and working closely with your veterinarian, your cat can lead a happy and comfortable life. Your veterinarian will guide you through the diagnostic process, interpret the test results, and develop a personalized treatment plan tailored to your cat's specific needs. Working together, you can manage your cat's asthma effectively, improving their quality of life and helping them breathe easier. 

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