Asthma is a lower respiratory condition that causes difficult breathing and can be life-threatening.
Just as in people, cats can have asthma attacks. These can be life-threatening, so seeking emergency veterinary attention is essential.
Signs of asthma can be minor to severe. A dry, hacking cough is most often mistaken for a hairball, and this coughing may be occasional or daily.
Additional symptoms may include:
- Open-mouthed panting or breathing
- Easily tired or often lethargic (more than usual, upwards of 16 hours or more a day)
- Labored breathing
- Faint wheezing
- Foamy mucous coughed up
- Hunched on the ground/floor with neck extended
- Lips and gums appear blue
There are also many causes and triggers that can make asthma worse.
Causes and Triggers
Asthma is believed to develop from bronchitis caused by an allergen. Asthma can also be caused or exaggerated by obesity, parasites, stress or another illness. The condition can be aggravated by additional allergens such as sprays, deodorizers, mold, dust, smoke (fireplace and cigarette), perfume or food ingredients.
While asthma can affect any cat, it is more common in females. Two breeds and breed mixes that seem to be susceptible to asthma are the Siamese and Himalayan breeds.
The first step in identifying asthma is to rule out other possible conditions or illnesses such as heart conditions, parasites, pneumonia and heartworms.
Your vet may perform a series of tests to pinpoint the problem and develop a treatment plan. Other tests may include monitoring the cat’s breathing, taking a chest X-ray to check the lungs, diaphragm, bronchial inflammation and fluid accumulation.
Blood tests may also be done to rule out infection or review the blood cell types and counts. Blood tests can also be used to rule out other conditions or indicate if the immune system has been triggered. Bronchial secretions may be examined as well as parasite tests performed. Some tests may require sedation, and this can be problematic in cats already suffering from respiratory problems.
Once your vet is able to rule out other possibilities and confirm your cat has asthma, it’s time to devise a treatment plan.
Cats can have asthmatic symptoms for a single occurrence, a short time, a few years or an entire lifetime. The important goal is to be prepared for future attacks.
While asthma can’t be cured, it can be successfully managed. This can be achieved by working with your vet or respiratory specialist and following the instructions given to you.
Steroids (corticosteroids) are usually administered in pill or inhaler form, although they can come in gels and injections. Oral steroids may have risks when used over a long period of time.
There is also a metered dose inhaler with a mask that may be prescribed. While cats may not be too excited about a mask held against their faces, treat training can be effective in making this treatment a routine part of daily life.
Bronchodilators help to open the airway during severe coughing or wheezing during an emergency. This may also be administered by the use of an inhaler.
This video shows a cat having an asthma attack, and you can hear the sound you might expect:
Ask your vet about their respiratory training and experience regarding this condition or ask if they would prefer to recommend you to a respiratory specialist.
As long as you and your vet are comfortable working on a treatment plan together, follow the instructions and take the steps to remove as many triggers as possible.
In addition to removing triggers for asthma, you should also reduce any stress to which your cat is exposed, provide a high quality food, switch to a dust-free litter and don’t miss any vet appointments. Some owners also use herbal remedies in their treatment plans.
Asthma can be managed with your diligence and provide years of quality life to your cat.
This pet health content was reviewed for accuracy by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed and updated Feb. 4, 2019.