Cats of any age, breed or gender may develop respiratory conditions such as feline asthma. The condition, which occurs when the airways in the lungs are restricted, isn’t uncommon – an estimated 85,000 cats are affected in Britain – yet milder cases can often go undiagnosed for years. Petplan’s Vet of the Year 2013, Laura Pugh, explains what feline asthma is and how it can be treated.
The causes, symptoms and treatments of feline asthma aren’t very different from the human variety. It happens when the small passageways of a cat’s lungs become chronically inflamed. If these passageways thicken and constrict even further it becomes very difficult for the cat to breathe, leading to an asthma attack. However, the exact cause of feline asthma isn’t totally understood. In certain cases it may be triggered by an allergic response to environmental irritants such as pollen, dust, cigarette smoke, household sprays, perfumes and even some types of cat litter. But sometimes no allergic cause can be found at all.
Symptoms to watch out for in your cat include wheezing, coughing and laboured breathing. You might also notice that your cat is less active, or breathing more heavily or faster than usual. There might also be an evident change in the breathing pattern – your cat may breathe from the abdomen, using tummy muscles more, as opposed to the chest. Sometimes the signs are quite low-key over days, weeks or even months and then suddenly the cat has an actual asthma attack – this is usually what prompts a visit to the vet.
How to help your cat
If you suspect your cat might have asthma, speak to your vet, who may want to do some further investigations to obtain an accurate diagnosis. Many asthmatic cats need some form of lifelong medication, depending on the severity of the condition, but fortunately successful management allows most to lead normal, happy lives.
Inhalers and nebulisers created specifically for cats allow you to treat them effectively with minimum fuss in your own home. Other ways of controlling asthma could include managing obesity, as this can worsen breathing difficulties, and eliminating any potential irritants in the house.
Find out more about common illnesses cats can suffer from on our interactive pet health profiles page, and read about Petplan customer June Leckie’s experience of owning a Snow Bengal who suffers from asthma.