Many people have experienced asthma in differing levels from a tightness in the chest and the feeling of breathlessness right up to a full asthma attack. Asthma in cats is very similar to that in humans, a chronic inflammation of the small passageways leading to the lungs that constrict and thicken, making it hard to breathe. And just like in humans, it can lead to respiratory distress and can become very serious, very quickly.
Symptoms and Causes
Some of the symptoms of asthma in cats are the ones that we recognise from the human version of the condition such as coughing, wheezing, a persistent cough and laboured breathing after exertion. Cats can also gag and produce a foamy mucus or breathe with their mouths open while blue lips and gums is another sign as well as squatting with shoulders hunched and neck extended, breathing rapidly or gasping for breath.
One of the most common causes of asthma in cats is a condition called allergic bronchitis. This is where the airways become inflamed due to something inhaled that causes an allergic reaction and stimulates the response in the immune system.
Common factors that can lead to a serious asthma attack include:
- Allergens such as pollen, mold, dust from cat litter, perfume, cigarette smoke and certain foods
- A pre-existing illness such as a heart condition
- Extreme stress
Symptoms similar to asthma can also be seen as a side effect of other conditions such as respiratory parasites, heart failure, pneumonia and heartworm.
Some cats, like some humans, are more prone to getting asthma than others and it does tend to occur more commonly in female cats than in males. It usually starts anywhere from the age of two right through to the age of eight and Siamese and related breeds seem to get the condition more frequently than other breeds.
If you suspect your cat has asthma, you should consult your vet immediately where they will conduct a physical examination and sometimes take some diagnostic tests to fully understand the problem. Because asthma can cause symptoms like other conditions, full tests may be needed to ensure that no other illness is present, including radiographs, blood work, parasite tests and evaluations of bronchial secretions.
There is no cure in asthma for cats but there are ways of managing it. Therapies that work include medication that open up breathing passages and reduce the inflammation of the airways as well as ones that alter the immune system. There are even specially adapted inhalers that are sometimes given to cats.
There is no guaranteed way to ensure your cat doesn't get asthma, as it can often be an inherited condition. However regular testing for internal parasites can reduce the chance of this type of asthma as well as avoiding using perfumes, room fresheners, carpet deodorisers and aerosol cleaners around your cat. Keep away from cat litter products that give off a lot of dust and make use of a humidifier to avoid the air in rooms being too dry. Reduce stress in the environment wherever possible and watch your cat's weight as obesity is a serious problem to more than just their breathing.