Can Cats Have Asthma?

As a cat owner, it is not uncommon to hear your cat cough up a hairball every once in a while. But if your cat begins coughing regularly and there are no hairballs in sight, what does that mean? It may be a sign that she has feline asthma.

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What is feline asthma?

Feline asthma is a disease that affects the lower airways of your cat's lungs. When asthma is present in your cat, her airways can become inflamed and constricted, and she may experience coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. The disease is fairly rare—it is only found in 1 to 5% of cats. When it is present, though, it is most commonly seen in cats between two and eight years of age.

What causes feline asthma?

According to the Veterinary Centers of America, the root cause of the inflammation that leads to asthmatic symptoms in cats is unknown. However, if they do have it, there are many triggers that can make their symptoms worse. Dust, cigarette smoke, hairspray, perfume, air fresheners, scented laundry detergent, and fabric softeners are just some of the allergens that can trigger asthmatic symptoms in your cat. If your cat does have asthma, her symptoms may become worse with each additional exposure to these allergens.

Overweight and obese cats may also be at greater risk for developing a chronic respiratory disease such as asthma.

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How to tell if your cat has asthma

Cats with asthma may experience a variety of symptoms. Cornell University's Feline Health Center notes that the symptoms can include difficulty breathing, rapid breathing, wheezing, coughing, hacking, open-mouth breathing, or vomiting. There is also a specific posture that your cat may assume during an asthma attack — pay close attention if she crouches low to the ground and extends her head and neck forward while coughing or wheezing.

If your cat is experiencing any of these symptoms regularly and persistently, it is a good idea to take her to the vet. Since there are many different reasons why your cat may be coughing — including having heartworm, lung infection, or pneumonia — the vet will utilize several tests to rule out the possibility that she is suffering from these ailments before diagnosing her with asthma. After administering an exam, your vet may also perform an x-ray, CT scan, or bronchoscopy to get a better look at your cat's airways and detect whether inflammatory cells are present.

Ways to treat feline asthma

Feline asthma is a progressive condition, meaning that if it is left untreated, it can become worse over time. The disease cannot be cured completely, but there are several steps you can take to help manage your cat's asthmatic symptoms so she can continue to live a full and active life.

First, you can do your best to eliminate allergens within your home. Keeping your cat's environment clean, minimizing dust, and using air purifiers can help keep symptoms at bay. Making sure your home is free of cigarette smoke can be beneficial as well.

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There are also medications that can help. Your vet may prescribe a bronchodilator, which is an inhaled medication that aids in opening up your cat's airway. Another type of drug that may be prescribed is a corticosteroid. Corticosteroids are administered to reduce inflammation and help relieve respiratory distress. They can come in an oral, injected, or inhaled form.

A dietary change is another possible route to take — a less allergenic or hypoallergenic type of food could benefit your cat, and can also reduce reliance on medication. Your vet will be able to identify whether this will help in your particular case.

While it may be scary to find out that your cat has asthma, it is manageable as long as you work with your vet to take steps to treat it.