Last Updated on: May 24, 2010 by Ingrid King

Guest post 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

26 Comments on Feline Asthma

  1. I’ve found that Dr. Elsey’s litter is one of the best litters out there for asthmatic cats. It is clay based, but it generates virtually no dust.

  2. I think there is more information out there now on the hazards of clay based cat litter, I think the litter is making my cat have respiratory issues, does anyone know of non clay, non toxic litter than still makes using the bathroom ok for kitty but not affecting him.

  3. My Logan came to me already sick from a shelter a thousand miles away. He had a URI which is very typical in “shelters”… His eyes ran and we saw thru a black lite they were backing up and over the tops of his eyes.. two eye prescriptions and its minimal now.. he had an xray for Pneumonia and was clear, funny they didnt also check for asthma then especially since they said that is what he suffers from. He has days of a sneeze or 4 and yucky comes out.. i wipe him down..though his eyes are good, I do a weekly gel in them and then stop and its so much better but since cats dont breathe thur their mouths then im assuming its the same as where they smell things so i keep him clean there.. a warm washcloth for 3 seconds and then wipe away anything thats dried there and then i dry him up after both sides and under eyes.. I have changed his diet in the past 2 only Duck and green pea formula by Natural Balance the one Dick Van Patten has developed. He has gotten better, but Im wondering if he has any parasites attacking him or anything else besides asthma that is causing his symptoms …some days he wheezs alot and other its so minor i can barely hear him. He is only on a brocodialator, 1/2 tab a day. He is just 8 months old and sweet as can be.. anything I can do, also several weeks after he came I started to become stricken with Vertigo, I have been on 3 very strong antibiotics but still cannot turn my head right or look up and back without the feeling of falling.. and have fallen backwards onto my bed several times, next is an ENt man for me… im wondering if we are both suffering from the same thing… ty for your time Avery

    • It sounds like there are a lot of concurrent issues going on with Logan, Avery. I’d consider perhaps consulting with a veterinary internist. And I would mention your own health issues, it’s possible that there may be an environmental trigger for both of you.

  4. Very Useful information just though you should add some videos showing what an asthma attack looks like there are a lot of videos in youtube.

    • I posted a link to one of the best videos I’ve seen in this post, Edgardo – I hope it helps.

  5. P. went back to the vet this morning-not sure if it was an asthma attack or just some fuzz stuck because she decided to chew her blanket. The vet said that we can stick with Sweat Scoop-the wheat based litter. Given I was at BEA all last week-it may have been because I cleaned the house yesterday-lots of dust. Thanks for the link. I have heard about perfume also-we do not have anything scented in the house-which is not a big deal as I have sensitivity to this stuff myself and do not like chemicals to be permeating the air I breath.

    P. is doing good.

  6. Esme, that’s a great point about getting rid of scented candles and plug ins. I’ve also heard that some cats react to their humans’ perfumes, so that may be something else to look at.

    I use a clay based clumping litter, but I’m aware that these litters generate a lot of dust, and there are health issues associated with the dust, both for the cats and for humans. I’ve heard good reports on a litter called World’s Best Cat Litter – it is corn based, but there are potentially some toxicity issues with that as well. I suppose nothing is 100% risk free. One of my blogging friends wrote an excellent article comparing several different kinds of litters recently, maybe that will be helpful for you. Here’s the link:

  7. Thanks for this-both P. and M. have asthma -M. has never had an attack-I was concerned because he breathes heavy-P. did have some hacking episodes which is what made me take her to the vet. She received a steroid injection. We use a wheat based litter-I will need to speak to my vet about possibly changing it for them. I am not the most neurotic housekeeper but do try to dust and vacuum regularly-another fact cat owners may not realize-get rid of all scented candles and plug ins. Any suggestions on an alternative litter?

  8. I definitely will keep you up to date when I get him checked out… I do have one more question… Should I put him on pet health insurance before I bring him just incase they do determine he has feline asthma, or would I be able to insure him after a diagnosis? I know the medicine and treatments must get expensive without the insurance…

  9. Debbi-that was a really tough time for you-and I don’t think I’ll ever forget your Amber. Great site, CSF, and the link to Modern Cat is great, Ingrid. Chari-it might also be of benefit if you have some video footage to show your veterinarian when you take your kitten in. Let us know what happens if you do have him checked. Ingrid-I almost forgot that about Brogan. He would shake me awake at night when he was in the early stage of a big attack. I started to sleep with his inhaler under my pillow and it became so routine that I got to where I barely had to open my eyes to treat him. Wow-those were the days…

  10. Cat Scratch Fever, I’m glad you found this article helpful. Thanks for sharing.

    I love your website – great information.

  11. Chari, if you have any doubts about whether your kitten’s breathing is anything other than panting after a hard play session, you should have your veterinarian take a look at him. You might want to check out the videos Kate Benjamin posted on her Moderncat site in the link I posted in a comment above -the first video shows a cat having an asthma attack.

  12. When my kitten plays for a long time and very intensely, he starts panting like a puppy. Is this feline asthma, or is he just out of breath from playing so hard?

  13. Thanks heaps for the post. I knew a little bit about human asthma but was really good to read this about cats and what to look out for. Have bookmarked and will recommend other cat owners have a read.

  14. I would like to add a link to a post about feline asthma my blogging friend Kate Benjamin of Moderncat added yesterday – it contains some excellent resources for feline asthma, including some great videos:

  15. Oh my goodness, Daniela – what a harrowing experience for you and Crosby.

    Renee, I still remember you talking about how Brogan used to actually alert you before he had an asthma attack – I always thought that was so amazing (but then, he was an amazing little guy all around).

    Debbi, I’m sure that your Amber knew you did the best you could for her.

  16. If I could have communicated to my Amber that the inhalers would make her feel better, managing her asthma would have been so much easier. Being. still, somewhat feral made treating her asthma very difficult. She is no longer with me but I think she knew I did the best I could.

  17. Thank you everyone for your feedback. Some of the most challenging-and rewarding cases I’ve worked with have been asthmatic kitties. I’ve always enjoyed determining the triggers and then helping to find treatment modalities that fit the client and patient’s needs and lifestyles. In fact, I have a client whose cat has coughing spasms because he gets so excited when it’s time for his treats and medication. That situation is a fairly easy ‘fix’, although it isn’t in a lot of cases. My own little fellow lived for years with asthma and he really put me to the test! Layla-you are so right about the VOCs. It’s amazing how so many common items in our environment can affect everyone’s health. Daniela-that’s quite a scare. I’ll bet you’re a pro by now with Crosby.

    Thank you, Ingrid. ~Renee

  18. Thank you for such great post, INgrid. My cat Crosby has asthma, and we had the most stressful night when he had his first crisis.

    The vet put us all in danger. It was a mess. Take a look att he story here…

  19. I’m glad you’re finding the information helpful, Marg, Elisa and Mason.

    Layla – I’m with you on the concerns about VOC’s. I should be replacing my ancient carpeting in my house, but at least I know that it’s done emitting VOC’s after all that time!

    Bernadette, we have come a long way with understanding more about feline diseases, although there’s always more to learn.

  20. Thank you for the in-depth article and common sense information, especially information on those conditions that can mimic asthma. Back in the dark ages my first cat had asthma but none of us knew it, even with coughing fits that turned her nose blue; we thought it was a hairball, if we thought anything. She ended up at 15 with emphysema and no lung capacity left at all, and I realized then that she’d had at least three painful years, only given prednisone now and then. I’m glad we know more now!

  21. Good info. It makes sense that cats are vulnerable to same environmental toxins as humans. I’d like to add one of the worst are VOCs emitted from carpet and fiberboard.

  22. Great information and very helpful. I hadn’t thought about the fact that the cats could have allergies to the food. Signs I will definitely take note of. Thanks for sharing.

    Thoughts in Progress

  23. This is really good information. We are very lucky here that we don’t have anyone that has this trouble so all this info is great. Thanks.

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