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Everything you need to know about cat asthma

Kitten getting injection at the vet advice
© Pixabay

Feline asthma is a breathing condition that affects cats in much the same way as human asthma affects people. It can affect a cat of any age, and requires treatment so that it doesn’t get worse

By G. John Cole

Asthma can affect your cat’s quality of life. But cat asthma can also strike suddenly with a life-threatening attack. It’s best to know about cat asthma up-front so you can deal with it if occurs.

Causes of cat asthma

Cat asthma happens when irritants or allergens cause inflammation in a cat’s lungs. Those cat lungs begin to produce more mucus and to become narrower. Naturally, this makes it more difficult for the cat to breathe. If the cat panics, it can just make the situation worse.

Vets aren’t sure of the precise cause of asthma. Sometimes it is something obvious like pollen, dust, cigarette smoke, or an odour spray that triggers the attack. Sometimes it’s not clear what caused the cat asthma attack at all.

Symptoms of cat asthma

Your cat does some pretty odd stuff. Those strange noises and gestures it makes can be difficult to interpret. But there are some signs you should particularly look out for. They could be symptoms of feline asthma, or some other serious condition that demands a vet’s attention.

The main symptoms of cat asthma involve changes in a cat’s breathing. It may begin to cough, wheeze, or breathe more rapidly. It may make other noises while breathing, or physically appear to struggle to breathe at all. This might include the cat holding its mouth open to breathe.

These symptoms might not be extreme at first. But they’re important to look out for as the condition can get worse slowly or quite suddenly. If your cat has any of these symptoms, you should take it to see a vet.

How a vet diagnoses cat asthma

The symptoms described above can also be linked to other cat conditions, such as bacterial infections, lungworm, or heart disease.

Your cat’s vet will want to rule out these possibilities. She will ask you to describe exactly what symptoms you’ve observed, including how regular they occur and for how long it's been happening. She will then perform a physical examination on your cat, and listen to her breathing with a stethoscope.

Depending what these first efforts uncover, your vet may carry out further tests. Blood tests are good to determine a cat’s general health and fitness. She may examine your cat’s poo for lungworm infection.

If there’s still no answer, your vet will order X-rays or a CT scan of your cat’s chest. She may even feed a video camera into your cat’s lungs to get that Inner Space point-of-view of what’s going on inside. These imaging techniques aren’t 100% guaranteed to reveal evidence of asthma. But the pictures might show thickened air passages or signs of stress on the lungs.

Finally, your vet might decide on an airway wash for your little cat. She'll take a sample from your cat’s breathing tubes and then check on the cell types and for bacteria or parasites.

You cat may be put under partial or general anaesthetic for some of these tests, for its comfort and its vet’s safety.

Treatment of cat asthma

There isn’t a ‘cure’ for cat asthma but there are a number of treatments that can help reduce the symptoms. This is important for your cat’s immediate comfort. But also because excessive coughing and breathing trouble can cause long-term damage to its lungs.

One of these treatments is the inhaler. The idea of administering an inhaler to your cat may sound like a bit of a death wish. But it usually just takes a bit of practice and a few harmless scratches before a cat gets used to it. The inhaler delivers anti-inflammatory drugs to your cat’s airways and lungs, and helps get rid of mucus.

Your vet might also suggest drugs in the form of pills, liquids, or powder than you can add to puss’s food. Occasionally, your vet might administer these or other drugs by injection.

The outcome of cat asthma

Cats and asthma don’t mix well, but with the right maintenance and close attention your cat can have a long life. Sometimes cats get worse as they get older. But sudden death from asthma is actually pretty rare. Keep an eye on your asthmatic cat and keep it away from known irritants such as car fumes and cigarette smoke, and that awful coughing sound will stay at a minimum.