Lung conditions in cats may be described as asthma, bronchitis or bronchial asthma. There are a variety of lung disorders, although these are more obstructive or caused by allergies.
Certain stimuli can cause irritation or narrowing of the airway. This can also cause inflammation, mucus accumulation or muscle spasms. Air can become trapped in the lungs that cannot be exhaled or cause the lings to over-inflate; these symptoms have the potential to cause emphysema.
Bronchitis in cats can happen from 2 to 8 years old, quite a large range. Overweight cats are more susceptible.
Causes and Symptoms
There are many causes that can affect a cat’s breathing. Although we can hope it’s just a hairball, there are some causes that can trigger more serious breathing problems:
- Irritants: debris, dust, smoke, perfumes (including those in laundry detergents) and other irritants that can be inhaled
- Outdoor irritants such as flowers, grass, weeds and pollen
- Bacteria or an infection
- Parasites (worms)
Identifying the cause of your cat’s breathing problem can be difficult, so it’s important to pay attention to the symptoms your cat may exhibit. This can help your veterinarian in diagnosing your cat as effectively as possible. Symptoms can include one or a combination of the following:
- Coughing or coughing spells
- Difficulty breathing
- Crouched position with neck extended
- Open mouth breathing
- Changes in the appearance of the gums or tongue
- Foamy saliva
This video shows a vet’s cat, Tiger, showing symptoms of bronchitis. It can mimic the behavior your cat shows when coughing up a hairball, but by listening you can tell the difference:
Diagnosis and Treatment
Depending on your cat’s symptoms, your vet may choose to determine the diagnosis by running several base tests (urinalysis, blood chemistry, fecal exam or a complete blood count). Other tests may include a heartworm test, feline leukemia and immunodeficiency virus tests, chest X-rays, cultures or tests that examine or take samples through the airway.
Even with the use of all diagnostic tests, the underlying cause may not be identified. Treatment can be done with corticosteroids, but this may interfere with treatments for other conditions your cat may have. Sometimes tests can show only limited data that may or may not represent a specific condition, so a quick or exact diagnosis may be unattainable.
Making a list of your cat’s symptoms, eating habits and behaviors becomes beneficial at this point. Make a video recording of your cat’s symptoms if possible; this way your vet can see the cat’s symptoms as well.
Lung conditions can be managed in many cases. The course of treatment will depend on your cat’s age, health, underlying conditions and the results from the new tests your vet will perform. With any luck, it’s just a hairball! If it’s not, below are some of the treatments that may be recommended for your cat:
- Avoiding and removing all triggers from the cat’s environment (limiting outdoor and smoke exposure, changing the cat litter brand, detergents, etc.)
- Medication that helps open the airway (bronchodilators)
- Corticosteroids to decrease inflammation, lower mucus and open the airway
- Oxygen, epinephrine or other machines and medications to aid in breathing in an emergency
- Rest and humidification of the cat’s atmosphere
- Manage a healthy weight
- Switching to a harness instead of a collar to prevent any pressure on the throat area
Medications may come in pill, liquid, inhaler or injection form. Be sure to ask your vet about the medications your cat needs, how often you need to provide them and how to administer them. If injections are required and it is not something you feel comfortable doing, ask your vet about alternatives.
It can be scary to hear your cat struggling to breathe or to witness some of the symptoms associated with asthma or bronchitis. Getting your cat medical attention as soon as possible will help you identify and treat the problem before it gets worse or becomes an emergency.