Bronchial Asthma in Cats

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Overview of Feline Asthma 

Asthma is a lung condition associated with airway obstruction caused by sudden narrowing of the bronchial tubes. In cats, asthma may also be known as “Feline Allergic Asthma”, “Feline Allergic Bronchitis”, “Feline Lower Airway Disease” or Feline Eosinophilic Bronchitis”.

Below is an overview of feline asthma followed by in-depth information about the diagnosis, treatment and prognosis for this condition. 

Typical symptoms include difficulty breathing (dyspnea), coughing and/or wheezing. These symptoms are caused by the spasmodic constriction of the bronchial tubes and increased production of secretions from the bronchial tree.

The cause of asthma in cats is not yet completely understood. Some type of hypersensitivity response is generally blamed; however, an inciting cause is often not identified. The symptoms can range from infrequent to recurrent to constant. In some cats the disease appears to be seasonal, while in others there is recurring and eventually relentless progression of respiratory signs. Some cats may be asymptomatic between bouts of acute airway obstruction, whereas severely affected cats may have a persistent daily cough.

In some cats the symptoms begin to resemble chronic bronchitis as might be seen with a human smoker’s cough. Asthma can be very serious and some cats die from respiratory failure unless they are given prompt treatment. Even with treatment, the disease can progress.

Cats of all ages can be affected. The Siamese breed and obese cats may have an increased incidence of disease. Affected cats are often young to middle-aged at time of diagnosis.

Asthma may be triggered by stress or by some change in the environment such as move to new house or opening of an attic or basement, a new brand of kitty litter or a new smoker in the house.

What to Watch For

Some cats may have an acute onset of signs while other cats may have signs that come and go. Other cats will have persistent chronic signs. Symptoms may include:

  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Rapid breathing (tachypnea)
  • Noisy breathing (such as wheezing)
  • Abnormal posture – your cat may sit with head extended and elbows back
  • Inactivity
  • Lethargy or fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Poor condition
  • Diagnosis of Bronchial Asthma in Cats

    Diagnostic tests are necessary to recognize feline bronchial asthma, and help exclude other diseases that may cause similar signs.

    There is no single test that is diagnostic of feline bronchial asthma. The diagnosis is based on the history of labored breathing that is responsive to oxygen, corticosteroids (hormones), and or bronchodilators (which are agents that expand the air passages of the lungs), typical X-ray findings, and evidence of airway inflammation based on fluid analysis. It is important to rule out other causes of difficult respiration in your cat, such as heart failure, pneumonia, pleural effusion, tumors or chest injury, as the treatments for each condition are very different. It is also possible to have two concurrent diseases. Recommended tests may include:

  • Complete medical history and physical examination
  • Chest radiograph (X-ray)
  • A heartworm test to rule out heartworm disease
  • Fecal floatation test to check for parasites or lung flukes
  • Feline leukemia and feline “AIDS” testing
  • Blood tests such as biochemistry analysis and a complete blood count (CBC)
  • Treatment of Bronchial Asthma in Cats

  • Initial therapy may require hospitalization with treatments that include corticosteroids, a bronchodilator drug such as aminophylline or terbutaline and oxygen.
  • It is most beneficial to maintain a stress-free environment.
  • Chronic therapy often involves therapy with steroids, such as prednisone or periodic injectable medications, and/or bronchodilator drugs. Steroid therapy can lead to side effects.
  • Home Care and Prevention

    At home, administer all prescribed medications, follow your veterinarian’s directions and restrict caloric intake in overweight or obese cats. You should discuss proper diet with your veterinarian.

    Prevention takes the form of minimizing the symptoms of asthma by removing irritants from the environment. Try to eliminate dusts and powders (such as flea powders or carpet cleaners). Consider changing litter types – change to sand, newspaper types, or low “dust” varieties – and clean furnace filters often. Try to eliminate smoking in the house (even on a trial basis) and consider using air cleaners/purifiers. Minimize use of aerosol sprays such as hairsprays and deodorizers.

    In-depth Information on Feline Asthma 

    Asthma is a reactive airway disease, meaning the muscle lining the bronchial tubes can suddenly constrict leading to airway obstruction. Affected cats cannot expel air from their lungs and symptoms come on very suddenly.

    Some cats have less obvious signs of reactive airways but prominent signs of bronchitis, meaning the bronchial tubes are inflamed and secretions accumulate and obstruct airways. In either case, breathing is difficult, coughing may occur and the lungs cannot function properly.

    Bronchial asthma in cats is uncomfortable, tiring and the condition can be life-threatening.

    Other medical problems can cause similar symptoms such as difficult breathing and coughing in cats. It is important to exclude these before establishing a diagnosis of feline bronchial asthma. These conditions include:

  • Acute upper respiratory infections Feline. Symptoms are often related to the nasal cavity and eyes and include sneezing.
  • Feline heartworm disease. Sudden, spontaneous death of a heartworm can lead to respiratory distress but chronic heartworm disease is more likely to cause coughing and vomiting.
  • Lungworms infection. This is an important cause of chronic coughing in some geographic areas.
  • Nasopharyngeal polyp. This inflammatory growth can obstruct the airways in the throat.
  • Laryngeal disease. Although relatively uncommon in cats, it can cause breathing problems.
  • Pleural effusion. An accumulation of fluid in the chest cavity causes respiratory difficulty and rapid breathing.
  • Pneumonia (lung infections)
  • Pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs) is often due to heart failure in cats.
  • Airway obstruction (foreign body, tumor) should be especially considered in cats that do not respond appropriately to therapy for asthma.
  • Trauma or injury to the trachea (windpipe) or chest cavity
  • Tumors or cancers of the lungs
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