Feline Asthma


Asthma in Cats

by Margaret Schill

Feline asthma has sometimes been called chronic bronchitis, bronchial asthma, and allergic bronchitis. Asthma causes spasms in the bronchi, resulting in airway inflammation and swelling. This restricts airflow, causing respiratory distress, which can become life threatening in a matter of minutes.

The most common symptoms in cats with asthma are wheezing and coughing. There may be labored breathing and/or open mouthed breathing. Some cats don't have wheezing at first in the early stages, that the humans can hear at any rate. The coughing is a dry, hacking cough that looks gagging or retching. The cat will typically be squatting with shoulders hunched, neck extended & low to the ground. The cat will often shake his head back and forth, as if trying to get something out of his throat that seems to be choking him and will look as is he is struggling to breathe. Frothy mucous may be coughed up, since asthma often causes excess mucous production. Symptoms may come and go, with the cat being fine in between episodes.

Many cats are misdiagnosed as having hairballs when people tell the vet about what they have seen with their cat. However, if no hairball ever comes up after a day or two, the hacking cough would not likely be from a hairball. In addition, cats don't cough up hairballs on a daily basis even when they do have excess fur in their stomachs, so a cat hacking or retching on a daily basis for a week or more should never be dismissed as simply having hairballs.

If a vet merely dismisses your reports and concerns as "hairballs", insist on chest x-rays and blood work anyway, or go to a different vet! It is very important to find out why the cat is having the problems, since it could be asthma, which is a chronic progressive disease that cannot be fully cured and will only get worse over time without treatment. Or, the cat could have cardiomyopathy, heartworms, or pneumonia that also need treatment. The vet cannot know what is going on with a cat if he doesn't do any tests!

Pictures on the left show Simon having an asthma attack. His first vet dismissed Simon's symptoms as hairballs. But that vet was so very wrong, as x-rays, blood work and then treatment for asthma revealed. Simon originally took pills, but now uses inhaled medication, dispensed via the AeroKat.

Below is a video of a cat having an asthma attack.

There is no one definitive test to diagnose feline asthma. Since symptoms of asthma can mimic other diseases, such as heartworm, pneumonia and congestive heart failure, those diseases and conditions need to be ruled out using chest x-rays, a complete blood count, a feline heartworm test, and sometimes transtracheal wash, bronchial wash, or bronchoalveolar lavage- techniques to sample cells from the lower airways.

Chest x-rays may be normal in some cats with asthma, while others will have signs of bronchial inflammation or over inflation of the lungs. Blood work will often show elevated eosinophils, which are related to allergies. Allergies can be responsible for asthma attacks in cats, just as can be the case in humans. If other conditions that have the same symptoms are ruled out, a cat can be tried on a cortiocsteroid, such as prednisolone, to reduce lung inflammation. If the cat's symptoms improve, one can conclude that the cat does have asthma.

Medications can reduce the symptoms of asthma a great deal, but may not be able to eliminate coughing fully. However, without treatment, the asthma will get worse, causing permanent damage to the lungs.

Treatment for feline asthma includes corticosteroids, which work to reduce inflammation.  The cat would take the corticosteroid on a daily basis, to help prevent asthma attacks from occurring, and to prevent worsening, permanent damage to the lungs. Some corticosteroids used in cats are Prednisone, Prednisolone and Depo-Medrol. Cats often will also be given a bronchodilator, such as aminophylline, or theophylline. These are usually in pill form.

In recent years, it has been found that the most effective therapy for feline asthma may be to use inhalers such as human asthmatics use. The medication then is delivered directly to the lungs, where the problem is. A mask and spacer system, called AeroKat®, has been invented to enable cats to use inhalers. This system is similar to the mask and spacer system used to treat babies and small children. For information on the AeroKat® and to buy it, go to http://www.aerokat.com.

Cats use the inhaled asthma medication, fluticasone (Flovent), which is an inhaled steroid. This is used daily, to prevent or minimize lung and airway inflammation, which can keep asthma attacks from occurring, or reduce the severity of attacks that do occur. For stopping attacks in progress, cats can use the bronchodilator albuterol. Albuterol is used on an as-needed basis for cats already on daily steroids for asthma, and displaying cough or wheezing. Using bronchodilators alone will not help prevent asthma attacks from occurring, nor will they prevent further damage to the lungs.

Using an air purifier with a HEPA filter will help cats, and people, with asthma be able to breathe better. Air purifiers really do make a significant difference!

More information:

http://www.marvistavet.com/html/body_feline_asthma.html

www.fritzthebrave.com- An excellent site with a great deal of very helpful information!

http://www.felineasthma.org/index.htm

http://www.maxshouse.com/feline_asthma_and_bronchitis.htm

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