It’s a major bummer.
Feline asthma is a common respiratory disease involving inflammation, hyperactivity and obstruction of the airways. Without the big words: your cat’s airways are inflamed and blocked and little kitty can’t breathe properly. About 1% of cats are affected and while there is no cure, the good news is that the symptoms will generally respond quickly to treatment.
Which Cats Are Most at Risk of Feline Asthma?
Cats between the ages of 6 and 9 years old are most at risk, however feline asthma can also present in both very young and elderly cats. There’s no evidence to suggest that female cats are more susceptible than males or vice versa. Siamese and Himalayan cats appear to present with asthma more frequently than other breeds, although this has not been definitively proven.
Causes of Asthma in Cats
The exact cause of asthma in cats is not known, but much like human asthma it is an immunity related condition and can be triggered by environmental allergens, including:
- Fireplace and/or cigarette smoke
- Household chemicals
- Sprays such as air fresheners, hair sprays, deodorants
- Cat litter
- Cold, moist airs
- Extreme stress
Asthma cats are also susceptible to exercise and stress related attacks. Cats being the dainty little creatures they are will often hide any illness, so you should pay attention to your pet and consider a visit to your vet if something seems out of character.
There isn’t a specific test to determine feline asthma, instead, your vet will take into account a combination of information gathered from the cat’s human as well as clinical testing. Your cat’s age, health history, habitat and diet are all taken into account, as well as the presence of breathing difficulties and coughing. Many other diseases and parasites such as heartworm and lungworm share common symptoms with feline asthma, so your vet will likely use several diagnostic tests to rule these out. Diagnostic tests for feline asthma may include:
- Blood tests – this is the quickest and easiest way to determine if there is any bronchial infection and also to rule out the presence of other infections or parasites.
- Chest X-Ray – generally done in two stages: one with your cat laying on his side and one laying on his back with limbs extended out of the way. X-Rays are painless and unobtrusive. Many cats are ok with being in these positions, but sometimes a small amount of sedative may be used to keep the cat still and avoid any distress.
- Bronchoalveolar Lavage – known as the more pronounceable BAL, this is a procedure performed under general anaesthetic where a tube is inserted into the trachea to extract fluids from the airways. The BAL is a very useful test as an examination of these fluids can detect other conditions of the lungs as well as asthma. The downside is the general anaesthetic, which is not recommended for a cat suffering from severe respiratory distress.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for feline asthma, it is a progressive disease that usually does not improve significantly over time. However, careful observation of your cat’s breathing, getting to know the signs of an asthma attack and intervening with medication when necessary will help your asthma cat live a happy life for many years.