Guest post by Zoe Camp

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 many characteristics with asthma in humans.

Signs of feline asthma may be as mild as an occasional soft cough and/or a wheeze. An asthma attack can sound very similar to your cat trying to cough up a hairball. In extreme and chronic cases, you may see a persistent cough along with labored, open-mouth, harsh breathing, which can be a life-threatening crisis.

Conventional treatment may include medication (typically, corticosteroids and bronchodilators). Holistic therapies may also be beneficial.

If your cat has a severe case of asthma, your veterinarian may prescribe the use of a nebulizer, a machine that administers medication in the form of an aerosolized mist inhaled into the lungs. These devices can appear a little intimidating, so you may be wondering how you’ll be able to convince your cat to comply with his treatment without starting a scratching, hissing commotion.

Don’t worry – the process is actually quite simple. Here are some step-by-step instructions for making your cat’s nebulizer treatment quick, effective, and fuss-free.

Stay Calm

Cats are very perceptive and pick up on their human’s energy. If  your cat sees that you’re anxious around the machine, he might suspect that something’s awry and act skittish. He’ll be much more likely to accept the treatment if you remain relaxed and calm.

Examine your options

Does your cat go bolting whenever you power up the vacuum cleaner? If so, a noisy tabletop nebulizer might not be the best option. Ultrasonic nebulizers, on the other hand, are practically silent, and may work better with even skittish cats.

The most effective way to deliver nebulized medication to cats is to use a soft, pediatric nebulizer mask; this ensures that you don’t waste medication, which in turn saves more money. But unless you’ve been blessed with a laid-back cat, this might be a recipe for disaster. An easier option is to put your tabby inside a crate or carrier, situate the mouthpiece so that it is pointing into the enclosure, and place a sheet or towel over it. This way your cat inhale the medication in a less stressful manner.

After the treatment, give your cat some space

Resists the temptation to give your cat an apologetic hug after she has received her medication. Let her scamper off and de-stress, and reward her with petting and treats after she’s had a chance to calm down.

Stay in touch with your vet

Always check with your vet if you’re unsure how much medication to use in each treatment, or which method of administration is right for your kitty.

Treating your cat with a nebulizer does not have to be an ordeal for cat and human. Following these steps will hopefully not evoke yowls and hisses – just healthy, happy purrs.

Zoe Camp is an avid blogger for Just Nebulizers and a student at Columbia University who spends her time researching and writing about pulmonary health. When she’s not writing, she spends time with her beloved cat Ella, a 9-year-old domestic shorthair (and a master huntress!)

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons

28 Comments on How To Give a Nebulizer Treatment to an Asthmatic Cat

    • Only use medications prescribed by a veterinarian. While some of the drugs may be the same as those used for humans, dosing will be very different for cats.

  1. I have a 13 year old asthmatic cat and right now we are using the Areokat with albuteral once a day and he absolutely hates,hates,hates it. Afterwards he panics and has labored open mouth breathing and has to go calm down. I am going to call our vet because I don’t think this is helping at all.

  2. I have an old cat who gets serious sinus infections and is difficult to treat. I bought a clear plastic tote with a lid that clamps shut at the handles. I drilled a 1″ hole in one end to fit the tubing mouthpiece of the nebulizer (the “T” part), taped over the open end, and I use this with the nebulizer to deliver the meds mixed with sterile water or saline solution. This does tend to make some cats drool a bit, but it works quickly, about 5 minutes per treatment with the nebulizer running, then you can let the cat sit in the tote for 5 more. Make sure to wipe the tote and cat down after each treatment, and clean tote and neb mouthpiece with warm soapy water at least once a week. My cat doesn’t seem to mind this much at all and I don’t have to fight her. Hope this helps somebody else!

    • It sounds like you basically constructed an oxygen chamber, Leah – what a clever idea. The only part that is not clear to me from your description is how the cat gets air while she’s in the tote for the additional five minutes?

  3. I have asthma, too. Once when my cat Ozzy was having an attack, I actually took a puff off my inhaler and blew it into his face. I had no idea they had medication for CATS.

  4. Using a mask as well as the other changes we made to his environment decreased the amount of medicine needed to maintain his breathing.
    We found using a mask to be even more beneficial..we found a good one for our cat here:
    It took a bit of time to introduce it, we would let him sniff it for the first while when we would do his treatments. Leaving it out so he got use to seeing it, and slowly began holding it to his face before treatment..until we could finally use it. Once he was use to it, he sat good for it as he knew it made him feel better.
    We also ensure to keep everything clean and dust free as possible, and removed any feather bedding, changed out his litter to a more natural dust free type, and changed his food to a more natural one.
    The extra commitment on our part was well worth it to give him the best we could for him.. And we could see the difference it made.

  5. Another item that may help is a spacer for giving inhalers (the little spray type medications). Humans inhale these through the mouth but putting the mouth piece in their mouth and pushing down on the canister so that it sprays the medication out. Since I have an asthmatic dog, I know that Aerodog makes one for dogs and it comes with 2 sizes of “nose cones” that fit over the dogs nose. The smaller one would probably fit a cat and I think the same company may have a cat specific spacer. The spacer allows for the medication sprayer to go in one end, then there’s a long tube and at the other end is the nose cone, so the animal doesn’t have to breathe in all the medication at once, but over the course of a few minutes. Of course, the sprayer makes noise when it sprays which can freak out an animal. For what it’s worth, this may help someone.

    • Wow, incredibly helpful! Thank you. My vet suggested I give Flonase (fluticasone) using an AeroKat chamber. She said I can use my Flonase spray. Problem: it is a SPRAY, it is not aerosolized. The medication just puddles up in the chamber. I can use a nebulizer with my cat; I have a pediatric unit that I have inserted into a plastic storage box. However, I do not know if the fluticasone can be adde to nebulizer OR if the full dose will be delivered to my cat. It’s a large box. Any thoughts?

      • Most vets recommend FloVENT, not FloNASE. The issue with that, if you live in the USA, is that it is very, very expensive (around $200 per inhaler). Just as an FYI.

  6. My cat is just over a year old and has asthma, sometimes very severe. Presently, he is on Prednisolone once a day (sometimes twice with attacks) and Terbutaline 1/4 tablet every eight hours. This seems to keep it under control, however he will occasionally have a coughing spell after running around but will settle down. Would the nebulizer cut down on the need for the other medications? I am concerned about the prolonged usage of steroids.

    • I was concerned about the systemic steroids too, which is why I switched to the inhaled steroids. It is still steroids — that is the medication that is effective for the inflammation caused by asthma — but the inhaled result in a much lower dose. Because the inhaled medication goes right where she or he needs it, the inhaled medications can be a smaller amount of oral steroids.

  7. This is a daily routine for Penelope-and as finicky as she is in other departments-she lets me pick her up like I am bottle feeding her and give it to her. I always do it somewhere quiet and without distractions. Magellan sometimes need the emergency inhaler-he hates it but he also does not like brushing his teeth or grooming-fortunately he takes good strong breaths and it is done with before he starts struggling too much .

    There is a good link-Fritz the cat that talks about the inhaler and asthma. one suggestion is to leave it out so the cat can explore it on their own.

  8. Thanks so much for these great ideas. I have a 7 year old female who snores softly whenever she falls asleep. Should I worry? I’ve never seen her trying to cough up a hair ball.

  9. My cat Tasha was recently diagnosed with asthma– as you noted, for years I mistook her attacks as an effort to vomit up a hairball. We’ve just started the process of using a metered dose inhaler and an AeroCat to administer fluticasone on a daily basis and getting her to accept the mask over her muzzle is a tough sell. I’m going to ask her vet about this idea of a carrier with a towel over it.

    Thanks for this post – couldn’t have come at a better time.

    Also, there’s a great on-line support group for folks with asthmatic cats;

    • My kitty Tubby has asthma and has been using the AeroKat and and inhaled steroids for about a year, after a year of using oral daily steroids. She actually minds the AeroKat less than oral meds (though she had adjusted to them too). One great piece of advice I was given on introducing the AeroKat was to let her get used to it before trying to use it. So I started with just the mask (she was on meds already, after all, so I had the time to do this). I would put it on her face and then take it off again. Gradually I extended the time the mask was on her face before taking it off. Then I started using the AeroKat for the rescue inhaler only (Albuterol). Since that is quick acting, she quickly realized that that stinky stuff she breathed in made her feel better fast. Finally, I switched her to the daily inhaled steroid and weaned her off the daily oral medications.

      She’s happier and her asthma is more under control with the inhaled steroids. She actually will come find me if it is time for medication. People told me she might but until I saw it, I doubted it could happen. One ritual we have while doing her puffs is for me to count them out loud as she does them. She’s smart enough to know what she needs to hear to be done, and she does it till she gets to the magic number. The other “trick” that works for us is if she’s taken only a few puffs but wants a break, I let her turn her face and breathe regular air. I think knowing that she can take the mask off makes her mind it less.

  10. Very interesting post. I have never had an asthmatic cat. It is really good to know if I do need it. Thank you.

  11. Great post. It is something that I knew nothing about until I had our Splitters very very sick and the vets suggested I get a nebulizer. So we did. Putting the cat in the carrier really is a great idea because those nebulizers are very loud. My vets helped me figure out how to do it so Splitters wouldn’t panic..I also put the actual machine as far away from her as I could.

    That is some great information.
    Take care.

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