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Asthma in cats

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Asthma in cats may develop respiratory disease in response to factors in their environment.  These obstructive and allergic lung diseases are known as asthma, bronchitis, or bronchial asthma.  In these conditions, the airways are "hyper-responsive" or "over-reactive."

Exposure to trigger substances causes such reactive airways to narrow, which makes breathing difficult for cats. Sensitivity to irritants or allergens can trigger muscle spasms and mucus buildup in the airways.  The cat also becomes more susceptible to secondary viral or bacterial infections.

Cats with obstructive lung disease have the most difficulty breathing while exhaling, or breathing out.  Air can become trapped in the lungs, causing them to overinflate.  The trapped air can result in emphysema.

Some cats are at greater risk of lung disease.  Overweight cats are more prone to respiratory disorders in general.  Obstructive lung disease is most common in cats 2-8 years old.  Siamese cats seem to be more at risk of developing asthma and bronchitis, as are female cats.

The most common signs are coughing and breathing difficulty.  The cat may extend its head during coughing episodes.  Wheezing can sometimes be heard without a stethoscope.  Sneezing and vomiting are less common.  Open-mouth breathing is cause for concern and should be reported to your veterinarian.

Your vet may recommend various diagnostic tests, including laboratory tests on blood, urine, and feces.  Chest x-rays or a bronchoscopy may also be needed.

Many cats with asthma can have a reasonable quality of life.  Treatment can be as simple as avoiding environmental factors that trigger or aggravate breathing problems.  Your vet may prescribe medications, such as bronchodilators to widen the airways, or corticosteroids to reduce inflammation.


What is asthma?

Asthma is a condition in which inhalation of allergens or irritants causes the airways to spasm, narrow, and become inflamed, thereby making it difficult to breathe. 

What cats are most likely to get asthma?

Asthma usually develops in cats between 2 and 8 years of age.  Risk is greatest in overweight cats, Siamese cats, and female cats.

How is asthma in cats treated?

Treatment involves avoiding environmental triggers (where possible) and uing medications to widen the airways and reduce inflammation.

Credit: Written and reviewed by John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhDand Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS
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