Help! My Cat Has Asthma
Tips to help her breathe easy.
You never want to see your cat sick, so if you notice she's coughing or wheezing (or just having trouble breathing in general), of course you're going to be alarmed!
As it turns out, just like in humans, cats can have have asthma — which means a trip to the vet is in order so she can get treated and feeling like her usual, healthy self.
How cat asthma occurs
Feline asthma is an acute or chronic inflammation of the airways and happens when a cat inhales allergens that stimulate the immune system.
“Along with environmental allergens, like pollen and dust, asthma can be triggered by aerosols, including perfume, hair spray and air fresheners,” Callihan told The Dodo. “Essential oils, incense and even cigarette smoke [affect] our cats as well.”
Unlike upper respiratory conditions, asthma affects the lower respiratory tract. When a cat inhales an allergen, the body responds by attacking the allergen with antibodies and immune cells, which causes inflammation in the airways.
“This inflammation causes the airway to narrow and increases mucus production,” Callihan said. “Unfortunately, this combination of swelling and mucus production can then cause your cat to have difficulty breathing.”
Signs of cat asthma
There are several signs to look out for if you think your cat may be experiencing asthma, according to Callihan:
- Difficulty breathing
- Open-mouth breathing
“When struggling with asthma, cats may also extend their neck when coughing or wheezing,” Callihan added.
Diagnosing cat asthma
If you have concerns that your cat may have asthma, talking to your veterinarian is key.
“Veterinarians will need to know what symptoms your cat is experiencing, and they can also use radiographs and bloodwork to determine a diagnosis,” Callihan said. “When looking at X-rays of an asthmatic cat, we can sometimes see a brighter branching pattern in the lungs due to inflammation.”
Your veterinarian may recommend a count of your cat’s white blood cells through bloodwork to check for a cell called eosinophils, which presents in larger numbers when the body’s trying to fight off an allergy or intruder, like parasites.
It’s possible your veterinarian will recommend more testing before actually diagnosing your cat with asthma.
Cat asthma treatment options
Treatment for cat asthma will depend on its severity. For example, if your cat’s having a severe asthma attack, your vet may recommend hospitalization and oxygen therapy.
“In less severe cases, your vet may prescribe steroids to reduce inflammation in the airways and a medication called a bronchodilator to help expand the airways to allow for easier breathing,” Callihan said.
But there are ways you can help prevent your cat having an asthma attack at home, too.
“If you have a cat with feline asthma, it’s important to avoid any triggers, such as aerosol sprays, perfumes, candles and cigarette smoke,” Callihan said. “Though we all enjoy a nice-smelling home, the products that help our house smell good might be hurting our cats.”
Managing your cat's asthma symptoms will give your cat so much relief and allow her to live a happy and comfortable life in her forever home with her favorite human.
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