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Is your cat coughing? - all about feline asthma

What is feline asthma?

Much like in humans, asthma in cats results from an over activation of the immune system that causes constriction of the airways, sometimes making it hard to breathe. Flare ups and asthma attacks can be triggered by allergens or irritants in the environment, stress, or even certain foods. Because there is no cure for asthma, it can be daunting as an owner to figure out how to keep your cat comfortable. With the right management, a cat with asthma can live a full and healthy life!





How will i know if my cat has Asthma

Asthma can present in a variety of ways depending on the severity of your cat’s condition. They may experience flare ups where they wheeze on exhalation or cough intermittently. If your cat has difficulty breathing, is breathing heavily, or is breathing with their mouth open, they may be having an asthma attack. This is a veterinary emergency that could be potentially fatal. Your cat must be seen by a veterinarian immediately to receive treatment.


Making a diagnosis

Diagnosing asthma involves ruling out other respiratory conditions. In order to do this, your veterinarian will take a detailed history of your cat’s past and current clinical signs in addition to giving them a thorough physical exam. A number of qualitative and quantitative diagnostics may be performed to aid in diagnosing your cat. These include chest radiographs (X-RAYS) and bronchoscopy during which a small, flexible camera is used to visualise the upper and lower airways.



During bronchoscopy, the veterinarian may perform a bronchial biopsy or collect a sample of cells using a technique called bronchoalveolar lavage. Blood testing can be carried out to reveal underlying or concurrent conditions and may increase suspicion for asthma if an elevation of eosinophils, a type of white blood cell, is seen. High eosinophil levels are often (but not always) seen in cats with asthma and other allergic immune conditions.


Medical Treatment

Both acute and long-term treatment of asthma consists of the administration of corticosteroids and/or bronchodilators. While corticosteroids work by reducing inflammation of the airways, bronchodilators mitigate acute respiratory distress by increasing the diameter of the airways. Commonly prescribed corticosteroids include dexamethasone, prednisolone, while bronchodilators used to treat signs of asthma include albuterol, salbutamol, and terbutaline.



These medications are often available in oral or injectable forms or as an inhaled treatment. Because oral and injected medications have systemic effects and therefore more side effects, inhaled treatment is generally preferred by veterinarians. These medications have a much more targeted and therefore direct effect in the airways, so lower doses can be administered. Training your cat to use an inhaler with a spacer and mask is often necessary to ensure a stress-free experience. Ask your veterinarian for tips on how to begin this training.


It is essential to note that because asthma is a chronic condition with no cure, medical treatment must be given consistently or as directed to adequately alleviate clinical signs associated with asthma.



Environmental and Long-term Management

Making changes to your cat’s environment and removing possible asthmatic triggers is very important to maintain their quality of life. Keeping your home stress-free and clean is essential to management. Dust can be an environmental trigger, and specifically made low-dust cat litter is available on the market. Triggers such as tobacco smoke, heavy perfume, and intense chemicals can also result in or exacerbate clinical signs or an asthma attack, so it is important to keep these to a minimum. A helpful tip is to keep a log or diary of your cat’s clinical signs and potential triggers to help your veterinarian better treat your cat.

Maintenance medications may also be a necessary part of your cat’s long-term care. Additionally, keeping your cat at a healthy weight will help to keep clinical signs to a minimum. Your veterinarian will work with you to determine the best course of treatment that keeps your cat as healthy and comfortable as possible.


Prognosis

The outlook for cats with asthma can be great with consistent management and monitoring. Regular checks with your veterinarian are important to tailor their treatment and make sure your cat is healthy and breathing well. If you think your cat is showing signs of respiratory disease or distress, call your veterinarian to make an appointment.


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