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How to Give Medication by Inhaler to Cats

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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Inhalers, often referred to as a metered dose inhalers (MDI), are small pressurized containers that contain medication. They provide a method of delivering medications by inhalation (breathing in) of the drug. The inhaler will deliver a set dose of medication with each actuation (or "puff").

This route of therapy allows faster delivery of drugs to the respiratory tract than many other methods of drug delivery. The primary underlying disease in cats that requires inhalation therapy is bronchial asthma. For more information, please read the article on Feline Asthma. The most common inhaler medication for cats is albuterol which helps to open the small airways. Steroids may also be used to decrease airway inflammation in some cats.

This treatment may be given in the veterinary hospital or recommended at home. Some cats will have acute bouts of airway inflammation that require immediate therapy.

Most inhalation medications are by prescription only through you veterinarian. Discuss the proper dose and technique with your veterinarian prior to administering the medication at home.

The inhaler is delivered to cats through a "spacer" and "mask". This is a plastic tube that takes the medication from the inhaler down a space and to your cat. The mask attached to the spacer and fits over your cats nose and mouth so she can breathe it in. One commonly used product is the Aerokat. This is the most commonly recommended product by veterinarians. Their website is very good and includes instructions and photos.

Technique for Using an Inhaler on Your Cat

For most inhalation drugs that can be administered at home, this method can be used:

  • Gather your supplies. You will need the medication and the inhaler/mask delivery system.

  • Prime. The MDI should be primed prior to the first the use. This can be done by shaking and allowing a few puffs of medication to go through the inhaler prior to administrating it to your cat. Initial actuations contain higher drug concentrations than subsequent actuations. Read the instructions with your specific type and brand of inhaler to determine its specific requirements.

  • Hold and shake MDI well for 15 seconds.

  • Remove the cap from the MDI mouthpiece and insert the mouthpiece into the spacer.

  • Keep inhaler upright with the end that dispenses the medication toward the floor.

  • Place mask on other end of spacer.

  • Gently place the mask over the cat's muzzle, making a gentle seal around the nose and mouth.

  • Dispense one puff into spacer by pressing down firmly on top of the metal canister.

  • The cat should breathe the drug through the mask for 7 to 10 breaths.

  • Positive clinical effect (less labored breathing) should be seen within 5 to 10 minutes in most cats.

  • In some cats, the dose may be repeated. Albuterol can be repeated in 20 minutes and every 1 to 2 hours for 2 to 4 hrs as needed for asthmatic crisis. This will depend on the specific medication being administered and your veterinarians instructions.

    Possible Side Effects

    Some medications delivered by inhalers may have side effects may include musculoskeletal twitchiness, possible tachycardia, excitability, decreased appetite. Side effects are fairly uncommon and typically don't last for more than a few hours.

    Cleaning the Spacer

    Replace cap on inhaler and thoroughly dry the plastic spacer. Typically, the spacer only needs to be soaked weekly in dishwashing solution and air dried. It is not necessary to rinse the soap as it assists in dispersing aerosol particles that contact the spacer surface.

    If you feel uncomfortable administering inhalation medication; discuss other alternatives with your veterinarian or ask for a demonstration. If you are having difficulty, call your veterinarians office and ask if you can stop by and have the veterinarian or one of the technicians' demonstrate the technique for you.


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