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Chronic Bronchitis in Cats

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Chronic bronchitis is a persistent inflammation of one or more bronchi, which are tubes that pass air to the lungs from the trachea. The cause of chronic bronchitis in most cases is unknown.

Chronic bronchitis can affect both dogs and cats but is not that common in cats. Chronic infective tracheobronchitis is more common in cats less than one year of age. Younger animals are more likely to be affected with pulmonary (lung) infection or malformation; older cats with neoplasia (cancer). There is no sex predilection.

What to Watch For

  • Coughing
  • Tachypnea (fast breathing)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Intermittent gagging (often misinterpreted as "vomiting")
  • Wheezing
  • Anorexia
  • Depression
  • Fever

    The cough is worsened by exercise and may be exacerbated at variable times of the day. Severely affected cats become cyanotic (blue-tinge to gums and tongue) with exertion and may faint after coughing. Unlike dogs, coughing is not common in cats.


    Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize chronic bronchitis. Tests may include:

  • Complete medical history and physical examination including careful auscultation of the heart and lungs. Auscultation of the lungs is often abnormal. Auscultation of the heart is usually normal. Coughing may be elicited upon palpation (the technique of examining parts of the body by touching and feeling them) of the trachea (windpipe) or during excitement. Obesity is common.

  • Your cat's medical history may include questions regarding the following: previous illness, therapy and response to therapy, appetite, weight loss, activity or exercise intolerance, cough and environmental exposure to dusts, smoke, and vapors.

  • Radiography (chest X-rays)

  • Airway examination

  • Cytology and culture

    Other diagnostic tests may include:

  • Electrocardiogram
  • CBC (complete blood count)
  • Arterial blood gas


    Chronic bronchitis can be a severe and progressive condition that causes difficulty breathing. Therapy of chronic bronchitis is guided by the cytology and culture of the tracheobronchial secretions (sputum), by the extent of radiographic changes (e.g. pneumonia) and by response to therapy. Chronic, intermittent antibiotic or corticosteroid therapy, combined with the use of bronchodilators, cough medicine and supportive care of the respiratory system, form the basis for chronic therapy.

    Rarely is a cure obtained; however, with diligent home care, significant improvement of clinical signs does occur in many cats.

    Home Care and Prevention

    There is no specific home care that can treat this disease. However, you should follow up with your veterinarian for examinations and radiographs and administer all veterinary prescribed medication as directed.

    Provide exercise only as your cat can tolerate. Do not allow your cat to get short or breath with activity. If a restraint collar is worn, replace it with a harness. You may want to provide a vaporizer or nebulizer so your pet can inhale humidified air. Also, treatment of dental disease and oral cavity infections is recommended.

    Prevention is not easy, although you can take steps to minimize the problem. Obesity should be controlled. Weight reduction over a two to three month period is recommended for obese pets. You should also minimize enviromental irritants. Decrease airway irritation. Avoid environmental stresses including house dust, vapors, chemical fumes and tobacco smoke.

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