Asthma is a hypersensitivity to
environmental allergens. This acute respiratory disease in cats
resembles bronchial asthma in humans. Feline asthma affects approximately 1
percent of all cats. Siamese may have a slightly increased risk. Some of these
cats present as an acute emergency with severe respiratory distress; others
have a chronic history of coughing and wheezing. Cats with a chronic
cough may need to be distinguished from cats with a hairball problem. In some cats,
there will be seasonal triggers, and the asthma will be acutely exacerbated at
In some cases, asthmatic attacks may be triggered by exposure to inhaled
allergens, such as tobacco smoke, kitty litter dust, various sprays, and carpet
deodorizers. Heartworm may well be a leading cause of asthma. In many cases,
the initiating cause is unknown.
Cats are supreme tree-climbing hunters, with strongly muscled backs and hindquarters that give them tremendous power to jump-either horizontally or vertically. It’s normal for cats to jump and climb to high places as they explore their environment. They have sharp, protractile (extendable) claws that serve as useful crampons for climbing.
An acute attack begins with the sudden onset of difficulty breathing,
accompanied by wheezing and coughing. This is associated with a sudden
contraction of the smooth muscles surrounding the bronchi. The bronchial tubes
are then dramatically narrowed. The wheezing is heard as the cat exhales, and
usually it is loud enough to be heard with the naked ear.
During a severe attack, the cat may sit with her shoulders hunched or lie
chest down with her mouth open, straining to breathe. The mucous membranes are
a bluish color due to the lack of oxygen (cyanosis). Only two other conditions
produce similar signs and symptoms: They are pleural effusion and pulmonary
edema (see Heart Failure).
Treatment: Immediate veterinary attention is needed to relieve bronchial
spasm and ease respiratory distress. Epinephrine may be needed as an emergency
treatment. Bronchodilators, such as terbutaline, and cortisone are effective
during the acute attack. Antihistamines and cough suppressants should not be
used because they interfere with the cat’s ability to clear her own secretions.
Asthmatic cats may have to be hospitalized for sedation and to remove them from
an allergenic environment. Supplemental oxygen, such as an oxygen cage, may be
needed for acute cases.
Feline asthma is a chronic condition with recurring attacks. These attacks
are often controlled with maintenance doses of an oral corticosteroid. To avoid
dependency, the medication is usually given every other day. Some cats may
respond favorably to tapering the drug, whereas others experience an immediate
relapse and require lifelong medication. If the trigger for the attacks is a
seasonal one, such as certain pollens, the cat may only need medication at
those times of year.
Many asthmatic cats are now treated with specially designed inhalers, such
as Aerokat. Medications prescribed by your veterinarian are administered by
having the cat breathe through the inhaler mask. Albuterol (a bronchodilator)
and steroids, such as fluticasone, are the most commonly used inhalant drugs.
This method minimizes side effects from steroids and provides rapid relief.
Antibiotics are rarely needed,
unless the cat has a concurrent Mycoplasma infection.
Try to minimize exposure to the inciting allergens. A HEPA air filter in the
house may be useful.
WebMD Veterinary Reference from "Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook"