Chronic Bronchitis in Cats

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Overview of Feline Chronic Bronchitis 

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.

  • Diagnosis of Chronic Bronchitis 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

    Treatment of Chronic Bronchitis in Cats

    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.

    In-depth Information on Feline Chronic Bronchitis 

    Chronic bronchitis refers to a persistent inflammatory change in the bronchial tree that may involve lobar bronchi or the smaller airways. Chronic bronchial inflammation or irritation, regardless of cause, seems to promote the predictable responses of increased tracheobronchial secretions, cough and progressive architectural changes in the bronchial tree, which alter airflow.

  • Small airway obstruction, often with mucus, leads to an increased work of breathing, which can be compounded by dynamic, expiratory collapse of the large airways (the large airways close or collapse when breathing out). Lobar bronchi and the intrathoracic trachea may totally collapse during forced expiration or with coughing. Mucus and bronchial secretions stimulate a cough.
  • Mucus plugs may further obstruct air flow and airway collapse. These changes can predispose the cat to recurrent respiratory infections. These changes cause nonreversible and often result in progressive changes.
  • Visual examination of the bronchial tree, for example by fiberoptic bronchoscopy, demonstrates red and granular mucosa (lining), mucus hypersecretion and discharge that may occlude smaller bronchi. Bronchiectasis, pneumonia, chronic bronchitis and large airway disease are evident in some cats.
  • Causes of bronchitis are frequently not determined but may include chronic or recurrent viral or bacterial infection that may suggest an abnormality of local immunity, lingering infection, ciliary dyskinesis, which is a congenital abnormality of respiratory cilia which is rare, and environmental pollutants, including passive exposure to cigarette smoke and hypersensitivity reactions.
  • Environmental pollutants are speculated to be causes of chronic airway irritation and injury and there may be a relationship of chronic respiratory diseases to poor oral health, but this is unproven.

    Other medical problems can lead to symptoms similar to those encountered in chronic bronchitis. Diagnostic testing such as radiographs (X-rays) and bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL]) will often diagnose chronic bronchitis. Further diagnostic testing may be needed to determine secondary factors such as active inflammation or to eliminate other causes of similar symptoms such as heart disease.

    Diseases that can appear similar to those with chronic bronchitis include:

  • Aspiration (the act of inhaling) from chronic esophageal disease
  • Bronchopneumonia (bacterial or fungal)
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Foreign body
  • Heartworm disease
  • Inflammatory lung disease
  • Lung worm infection
  • Pneumonia (inflammation/infection of the lungs)
  • Pulmonary fibrosis (formation of fibrous tissue in the lungs)
  • Pulmonary neoplasia (lung tumors)
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