Cat sneezing

Feline asthma is a frustrating medical condition for veterinarians and cat owners alike, but you wouldn’t have known it at the lecture given at the Western Veterinary Conference by Dr. Carol Reinero of the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine. That’s because she brought not only her considerable skill, experience and insight to her seminar on this challenging topic, but also her caring and can-do attitude.

Those colleagues sitting in the audience could not help but be as inspired as they were informed, and that was good news indeed for anyone whose cat suffers from this frightening problem. But still, it’s essential to know that while asthma can be managed, it is still an incurable condition for many cats.

“I think every one of us has known a cat who has been sneezing and snorking for years, and the owner wants it fixed now, “ Dr. Reinero told the room full of veterinarians. “When we think of our epileptic patients, we’re always very comfortable telling owners that you can give the medicine and your pet will have good quality of life, but we’re not going to cure this. But when it comes to many of the respiratory diseases we see, we actually do a worse job of communicating that.”

Working Toward the Right Management

In other words: Prepare to work at managing — but probably not curing — your cat’s breathing problems. If there were ever a problem that requires an ongoing partnership with your pet’s veterinarian, this is it.

On the other hand, you might get lucky, and you and your veterinarian might figure out a permanent solution. That was the case for one family Dr. Reinero talked about, whose cat started having breathing difficulties after a flood in a carpeted basement. If you guessed the cat was reacting to mold, you’re right. Pulling up the carpet and dealing with the mold ended the cat’s breathing problem, and was probably good for the human family members’ health as well. Cats can also suffer breathing problems caused by a bacterial infection, which can also be treated and usually resolved for good.

Detailed medical detective work, including the thorough development of a case history, is essential to a diagnostic work-up when it comes to determining if a cat actually does have true feline asthma. Since it’s not that easy to treat a full-blown asthma attack, knowing and reducing the triggers is essential to an asthmatic cat’s long-term comfort. Of course, it is very difficult to be patient while working toward a diagnosis and treatment plan. Feline asthma’s symptoms are very similar to those seen in humans, including difficulty breathing, wheezing and 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.

Few illnesses can make you feel more helpless than feline asthma, as you try to ease your pet’s fear and suffering.

What Cat Owners Can Do

Home care is mostly about prevention: Minimizing exposure to dust, smoke, aerosol sprays and other irritants and triggers is essential. Medically, Dr. Reinero outlined a standard of care that includes bronchodilators to treat acute attacks, and glucocorticoids, more commonly known as steroids, to keep lungs from overreacting to whatever irritants and triggers cannot be removed or minimized.

As always, the cost of care, time available, and the ability to give medication at home all factor into the ability of any owner to manage feline asthma. Again, it comes down to working with your veterinarian. Dr. Reinero noted the difficulty so many people have giving medications to cats, and stressed the veterinarian’s role in finding solutions that work for everyone, including the owner.

While that will require some effort on everyone’s part, with a positive attitude from the cat owner and the veterinarian, everyone can breathe easier again — especially the asthmatic cat.