Written by Renee L. Austin
Feline asthma is a respiratory condition that involves inflammation and excess mucous build-up in the airways. Muscles spasms cause constriction of the airway, resulting in respiratory distress. Feline Asthma shares some characteristics with asthma in humans, including symptoms.
Signs of feline asthma may be as mild as an occasional soft cough and/or a wheeze. At times it may seem as though your cat is trying unsuccessfully to bring up a hairball. In extreme and chronic cases, one might notice a persistent cough along with labored, open-mouth, harsh breathing. At this point, an asthma ‘attack’ could culminate in a life-threatening crisis.
There are a number of treatment options which might include oral medications, inhalers similar to those used in human medicine, and nebulizers. These serve to help with daily prevention and also manage more severe episodes as they occur by reducing inflammation and helping to relax the muscles of the airway.
Even though the exact causes of feline asthma are unknown, it is believed that allergies could play a part. In addition to medical management, it may help to watch for possible triggers in the environment. Consider whether your litter is low-dust and unscented. If your cat has allergies to grains, corn and wheat based litters may pose a problem as well. Be careful when using household products such as aerosols, cleaners and polishes. Reduce exposure to vapors from garages, work areas, and special projects. Vacuum frequently and wash bedding often to help reduce dust mites. Watch for areas where mildew and mold may build up. If you notice seasonal occurrences, be mindful of open doors and windows. Look for reactions in stressful situations and limit exercise when appropriate. You may even want to discuss your cat’s diet with your veterinarian.
It is beneficial to keep a detailed journal of episodes. Include any observations of your cat’s behavior and activity level leading up to an event, indoor and outdoor temperatures, weather conditions, and any household activities such as vacuuming and cleaning or projects using paints or chemicals. Note any changes in the diet you offer, bedding, and with the brand of litter you use. It is especially helpful to describe the signs you are seeing. Developing a scale where you can measure the severity of attacks and the effectiveness of any treatments you are using will help to add a little bit of objectivity. In doing this, you’ll have an invaluable resource for your veterinarian and a possible means of anticipating problems.
In case of an attack be certain that you have your emergency supply of medications on hand at all times because an episode can occur with little warning. Since an already panicked cat will sense your anxiety, try to remain as calm as possible. Sometimes with mild episodes, just simply talking quietly and petting lightly and gently can help settle breathing. Be sure that you don’t hover too closely. Holding or wrapping in towels or blankets will only result in increasing the sense that your cat is suffocating. Allow for a short bit of time to pass after giving oral medications or using a rescue inhaler or nebulizer. This gives you an opportunity to see if the treatment has been effective and also helps you to calmly prepare for the next step if more aggressive treatment is needed.
Many other medical conditions including infection, heart worms, foreign bodies, lung worms, cancer, and heart disease may mimic feline asthma, therefore it is vital for you to take your cat to your veterinarian for a thorough exam and medical work-up. Feline Asthma is typically diagnosed through clinical presentation, radiographs (x-rays) and lab work. Once diagnosed, your veterinarian will work with you to determine the optimal approach to treating your cat.
Initially, the diagnosis and management of feline asthma can be a frustrating and unnerving process, but if you suspect that your cat has this disease don’t ignore the signs. Untreated, this can be a very uncomfortable and potentially life threatening condition for your cat to live with.
Copyright © 2008 Renee L. Austin/Whimsy Cats LLC All rights reserved
Renee L. Austin is the founder of Whimsy Cats, a specialized home care business for cats with chronic medical conditions and special needs. She also provides consulting services for veterinary practices. For more information visit http://www.whimsycats.com.
About the author
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.