Cat With Asthma
Lance is a 5-year-old, neutered male cat who suffers from chronic coughing.

Over the course of several months, his veterinarian prescribed antibiotics and antihistamines, but his cough did not subside. When Lance began wheezing, his veterinarian performed a series of diagnostic tests, and he was diagnosed with feline asthma.      

Asthma is a common feline condition, so veterinarians see cats like Lance often  

Here’s a look at why it happens — and what veterinarians can do to combat the problem.  

What Is Feline Asthma? 

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease that causes the narrowing of the airways in a cat’s lungs.

Inhaled particles known as allergens are believed to be the cause of feline asthma. Once cats have been exposed and sensitized to a particular allergen, they can develop the following classic features of asthma:

  • Airway inflammation

  • Over-secretion of mucus

  • Airway narrowing, known as bronchoconstriction

    What Are the Signs of Feline Asthma?

    The common signs of asthma include:

  • Coughing

  • Gagging or “hacking”

  • Wheezing

  • Lethargy and exercise intolerance

  • Difficulty breathing, such as shortness of breath or open mouth breathing

Cat owners often confuse asthma-induced coughing with vomiting or “hacking up” a hairball. Felines who have asthma may forcefully cough, and this is often followed by retching or gagging. In some cases, the asthmatic coughing may even produce foam, saliva or regurgitated food. 

How Do Veterinarians Diagnose Asthma in Cats?

Veterinarians will use a combination of medical history, bloodwork, fecal tests, chest X-rays and possibly an airway sampling to confirm a diagnosis of feline asthma.

It’s also important to look at other potential medical conditions — such as heartworm disease — that can affect the lungs and cause similar signs in cats. 

What Is the Treatment for Feline Asthma?

Although asthma in cats is not curable, it is manageable.

The mainstays of asthma treatment include reducing the amount of inhaled allergens in the cat’s environment, along with medications that can dilate a feline’s airways, as well as decrease mucus and inflammation. 

Traditionally, oral or injectable steroids are prescribed to control feline asthma symptoms. These medications have many known negative side effects, so inhaler therapy has gained popularity in managing the condition, since inhaled steroids are associated with fewer side effects.

Inhaler therapy is administered using a face mask that’s gently applied to the face. Once the correct dosage of medication is released, the feline should take at least five breaths through the mask per “puff” of medication. Both steroids and bronchodilators can be given this way, and most cats accept the mask with little anxiety. 

Some asthmatic cats may require both oral and inhaled medications to adequately control their signs, but many can be well controlled on inhaler therapy alone.

What Else Can I Do to Help My Asthmatic Cat?

Although it is unrealistic to remove all potential respiratory allergens from a feline’s environment, the following tips can help:

Consider allergy testing. Talk to your vet about testing to identify specific allergens in your asthmatic cat. These results may allow you to give your cat allergy shots to help reduce their signs of asthma.

Install HEPA-style air filters. Focus on rooms where your cat spends most of his time.

Dust and vacuum frequently. And keep your cat out of the room for at least one hour after you’ve cleaned to allow any airborne allergens to settle.

Switch to dust-free litter.

Wash your cat’s bedding frequently in a hypoallergenic detergent. And only use an unscented sheet in the dryer. Do not dry these items outside, where they can pick up pollen. Beds can also be zipped into hypoallergenic pillowcases or covers to minimize exposure to allergens.

Try to limit potential airborne allergens. Consider such common home items as candles, incense, carpet deodorizers and fireplace smoke.

As for Lance, he has now been treated for three years and is doing well, thanks to a low daily dosage of inhaled steroids.

Dr. Donna Spector is a board-certified internal medicine specialist who practices in the northern Chicago area. She has special interests in canine and feline nutrition, gastrointestinal diseases, diabetes and Cushing’s disease.

More on Vetstreet: