Cat at Vet With Stethoscope

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.

What to Do If Your Cat Has an Asthma Attack

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.

Caring for Your Asthmatic Cat

If your veterinarian diagnoses asthma in your cat, she will likely prescribe medications to help ease the symptoms. Whenever your cat is having breathing problems, give him the medication if you can do so without stressing him further; otherwise, wait for him to settle down. Use the time to call your veterinarian and discuss the symptoms and whether your cat needs to come in for treatment.

Home care is mostly about prevention: Minimizing exposure to dust, smoke, aerosol sprays and other irritants is essential; use low-dust litter and leave the litterbox hood off. Keep your ears and eyes open and stay in close contact with your veterinarian so that you can get the newest information relating to the cause, prevention and treatment of feline asthma. Caring for an asthmatic cat is not a do-it-yourself project; you will need to work closely with your veterinarian to help your cat stay healthy.

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