The health risks of secondhand smoke for humans are well known, but have you ever thought about how it can also affect your cats? Cats’ lungs are much smaller and have less reserve than human lungs. Additionally, cats will also be affected by the residue of cigarette smoke that ends up on their fur and skin and on furniture and carpets even after the air has cleared. This is known as thirdhand smoke, and it causes its own set of dangerous problems.Continue Reading
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.Continue Reading
Today is National Hairball Awareness Day, and you’ll see a lot of information about hairballs, hairball remedies, and so-called hairball diets online. Hairballs are often the topic of jokes and cartoons, but there is nothing funny about a cat who gets frequent hairballs. While the occasional, isolated hairball may be nothing to worry about, there really is no such thing as “just a hairball.”
I’d like to offer some information on hairballs that you may find startling, and to shed some light on why some of the conventional remedies may not work, or worse, mask a more serious problem.
In Some Startling New Thoughts on Cats and Hairballs, feline veterinarian Fern Crist offers a different look at how cats get hairballs, what they mean, and what you can do to prevent them.
In When Hairballs are More Than Just Hairballs, I explain why conventional remedies such as Petromalt or Laxatone should not be given to cats, Continue Reading
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.Continue Reading
Guest post by Andrea Tasi, VMD
Has your cat been coughing? Watch the video below and you may recognize that sound. Many people assume that the cat is trying to cough up a hairball and don’t realize that their cat could have asthma. Untreated, asthma can progress and even be fatal. But, like human asthmatics, cats can be treated and the disease can be managed.
It is estimated that about 1% of cats suffer from asthma. Siamese, Burmese and other Oriental breeds show a greater incidence, but any breed can have asthma. It usually first occurs in young to middle-aged cats between the ages of two and eight.
It is widely recognized that asthma attacks can be triggered by allergens in the environment such as pollens, dust, smoke, fumes, mold, fragrances and aerosols. Heat, cold, stress and exertion can also trigger attacks.
What is Feline Asthma?
Feline asthma is a disorder of the lower airways, called bronchi and bronchioles, in which inflammation causes increased production of mucus, spasms of the airways and difficulty moving air out of the airways. It is considered to be an immune-mediated condition, which means that the inflammation is triggered by some allergic or over-active response of the cat’s own immune system.
What are the Symptoms of Feline Asthma?
Different cats may be affected in different ways, but the most common symptom is a wheezing or gagging cough, often called a hairball-type cough. In my professional experience however, hairballs do not cause coughing, as they are gastrointestinal and not respiratory in origin. Hairballs can cause retching, gagging and vomiting. With an asthmatic cough, most cats will stretch their necks out, get in a hunkered down posture and then cough in either a dry or moist sounding fashion. They may stick their tongues out a bit when coughing. Often it sounds and seems as if they are coughing some mucus up and then swallowing it.
Other symptoms may include decreased activity, becoming winded by normal activity, increased rate and effort of breathing and even open-mouth breathing in severely affected patients who are having trouble moving air out of their lungs.
Feline asthma in its most severe form can cause death by asphyxiation: the cat simply can’t breathe.
How is Feline Asthma Diagnosed?
A cat presenting with a history of coughing, wheezing and/or respiratory difficulty will usually need the following tests to determine what is going on:
• A thorough physical examination, including listening carefully to the lungs and heart.
• Chest radiographs, commonly known as x-rays. These help rule out other causes of respiratory symptoms like heart enlargement, fluid in or around the lungs, tumors or pneumonia. Many cats with feline asthma have prominent airways and hyperinflated lungs, which means too much air is trapped in the lungs. It is important to note that cats can be severely asthmatic and have normal chest radiographs.
• A complete blood count: a blood test which looks at red and white blood cell numbers and helps determine if a patient is responding to inflammation or infection. Many cats with feline asthma have an increased number of eosinophils, a white blood cell type that responds to allergic and parasitic inflammation.
• A heartworm test. Heartworm disease can mimic the symptoms of feline asthma.
• A fecal test for intestinal parasites. Some intestinal parasites have life stages that migrate through the lungs and can cause inflammation and respiratory symptoms.
In general, the diagnosis of asthma is made by ruling out other causes of coughing and respiratory difficulty, as there is no one test that determines with 100% assurance that a cat has asthma or not.
How is Feline Asthma Treated?
Conventional medical treatment of feline asthma is based upon two main drug types:
• Corticosteroids: This class of drugs is anti-inflammatory in nature. Oral prednisone or prednisolone, and/or inhaled forms of corticosteroids are used to reduce the inflammation in the airways. Side effects of corticosteroids can include increased thirst and urination, increased appetite, weight gain, diabetes, lowered resistance to infection, and even behavioral changes.
• Bronchodilators: This class of drugs helps open up the airways. Both oral and inhaled forms of bronchodilators are used. Side effects are generally minimal with bronchodilators, but these drugs should never be used alone, as that can actually worsen the condition. Special inhalant masks are available for cats to administer these medications.
• Several other drugs, such as antihistamines and anti-leukotrienes, are also used by some veterinarians. Holistic veterinarians may use alternative medical therapies to treat some asthmatic cats.
If a cat is in an emergency situation in a veterinary clinic, oxygen therapy will also be used.
How Does Diet Relate to Feline Asthma?
In over two decades of feline practice, I have attended many continuing education seminars on feline asthma and rarely heard diet discussed as a potential cause or trigger for the condition.
However, I have had several clients who, on their own initiative, changed what they fed their cats and found that the symptoms of asthma were either greatly reduced or eliminated. What was the change they all made? They removed all dry food and all grain-based products from their cat’s diet.
Most did this by simply switching to grain-free canned cat foods. Some used balanced commercially prepared or home-made grain-free, raw meat cat foods, either as the only food fed or in combination with some grain-free canned foods. After observing this effect, I incorporated diet changes into my case management of cats with asthma. I began to see many cases where my patients no longer needed medication — or much reduced doses — to control their asthma symptoms. It is important to note that not all cases of asthma will improve with the elimination of dry food and grains. But it is worth considering this change as a much less intrusive method of reducing or controlling symptoms. I have never observed a worsening of a cat’s asthma from a gradual and nutritionally balanced diet change.
Why does this diet change help some cats? It is my opinion that the processed and fractionated grain products in many cat foods are strong triggers for allergic or overactive inflammatory responses in some cats. Remove these triggers, and these cats get better or are even cured.
If you have an asthmatic cat on medication and are interested in this approach, you must do this in consultation with your veterinarian. Do not, under any circumstances, simply stop giving your cat his/her medications.
If your cat is on high doses of corticosteroid drugs, it is also important to remember that these drugs can be suppressive to the immune system, rendering a cat more susceptible to infection. In these cases, I would advocate using either a canned or home cooked grain-free, nutritionally balanced food, not a raw diet.
Andrea Tasi, VMD owns and operates Just Cats, Naturally, a housecall based, feline-exclusive practice dedicated to the holistic, individualized approach to each cat. Dr. Tasi uses classical homeopathy, nutritional therapy, and behavior/environment-related techniques to help healthy cats stay well and help ill cats regain their health.
This article originally appeared on the Feline Nutrition website, and is re-posted here with their permission. The Feline Nutrition is dedicated to providing thoroughly researched information on feline health and nutrition. If you care about cats and their health, please consider joining the society. Membership is free, and a growing membership base will help the organization spread the word about species-appropriate nutrition for cats.
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 http://www.whimsycats.com.