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Q. My cat had some kind of attack that seemed like asthma. Do cats get asthma? What should I do if it happens again?
A. Yes, cats can have asthma. The symptoms are very similar to those seen in humans — difficulty breathing, first and foremost. Cats with asthma also “wheeze” and may exhibit a cough that sometimes sounds like gagging. In severe cases, cats may sit with their necks extended, inhaling and exhaling rapidly with their mouths open.
The signs of feline asthma can come on quite suddenly and can be very serious — and frightening to observe. An asthmatic person may panic when he feels as if he can’t breathe, and the same may be true for your cat. Do all you can to minimize stress when your cat is having a hard time breathing. The best way to do so is by not creating stress; now is not the time to be chasing your pet and forcing him into a carrier. Let him calm down first. However, if your cat is open-mouth panting, using excessive abdominal force to breathe, or if his tongue, gums or lips are turning bluish, this is a medical emergency. Call your veterinarian for advice immediately.
If your cat experiences another such incident, get him as calm as you can and take him to your veterinarian or to an emergency clinic (if it happens after normal business hours or on a weekend or holiday). Call ahead so that the clinic can be prepared for your arrival, and be prepared for a stressful wait while the staff searches for an answer as to what’s causing your cat’s breathing difficulties.
Cats having difficulty breathing are quite fragile, and too much handling can worsen their condition to the point where they may even die. As much as you and your veterinarian want to know the cause of the problem and begin treating it immediately, often the best thing for your veterinarian to do is to quickly rule out any obvious problems, such as obstruction of the airway or air or fluid around the lungs, and avoid significant handling while giving medications and time a chance to work. In more serious cases, cats may need to be given additional oxygen by face mask or oxygen cage until they are more stable and better able to tolerate further treatment or diagnostics.
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