Feline Asthma – All About Asthma in Cats
Hello, I’m Dr. Jane Matheys from The Cat Doctor Veterinary Hospital and Hotel in Boise, Idaho. I’ll be answering some questions today from the Facebook page of Pets Best Insurance.
I had several people write in about asthma in cats so we’ll tackle that one first. Cindy wrote in and she says, “My cat has been diagnosed with asthma. He is on theophylline and prednisolone but still is hacking and I can hear his breathing. It sounds raspy. I have an inhaler and I’m going to try it but if that doesn’t work what else can I do to make him more comfortable?”
Asthma in cats is pretty similar to asthma in people. There’s inflammation in the airways in the lung and that makes the cats cough. Cindy’s cat is on prednisolone which is a steroid. It works against the inflammation. Theophylline is what we call a bronchodilator. It opens up the airways and helps the breathing become more easy.
For most kitties that’s really all it takes to keep the asthma in check, but in Cindy’s case, that’s not enough for her kitty. She does have some options besides that regiment that the kitty is on right now. There are a couple of other more potent, stronger steroids that can be used in place of the prednisolone, and sometimes that’s all that needs to be done.
Another option is to use a steroid inhaler. This is very similar to the inhalers that people use for their asthma. We know that cats do not have opposable thumbs and they can’t hold the inhaler up to their mouths, so there’s a specially designed inhaler made for the kitty cats. It’s more like a little mask that is held over the cat’s face and there’s a small tube and the medication, the actual inhaler, is attached to the end. The inhaler is puffed into the tube there and that medication sits in that little tube. It’s called a spacer. The owner puts the mask over the kitty’s face, gives a couple of puffs, and then that mask is just held into place while the kitty takes about eight to ten breaths.
This is a perfect solution for Cindy’s cat because the steroid is getting right down into the lungs where it needs to be. That can be very effective versus the oral steroids that he’s on right now. Hopefully, after she tries that it will work really well for her cat.
Overall, kitties handle steroids very well. There are very few side effects, but sometimes you can see some such as diabetes. To reduce the risk of those side effects, if we can use the inhaler that will be better off for the cat in the long run.
We don’t know exactly what causes asthma in cats, but sometimes there does seem to be an underlying allergic component so an air purifier may be helpful. A good website that I’ve referred my clients to in the past is FritzTheBrave.com. It is a very nice website that give owners who have kitties with asthma a good education about exactly what asthma in cats is, how to treat it, and what to expect along the way. It’s written by the family who owned a cat named Fritz who had asthma, and despite his disease he lived a nice, long, fairly healthy life. Take a look at that so you can get an idea as to what to expect for your kitty cat.
Amber also writes in asking about asthma. She’s wondering if her cat has asthma. She says, “I wonder if that’s what’s wrong with my cat. He does the hacking sometimes and I was thinking it was maybe hairballs or allergies. How do I know if it’s asthma?”
Like Amber says, it’s not always easy to tell the difference between the cough from hairballs versus coughing from asthma. They look pretty similar and can be confusing. At the risk of making myself look very silly I’m going to try to demonstrate to you what a coughing cat looks like, because it’s a very specific activity that you’ll see. Usually the cat will be hunched down; the elbows will be kind of out to the side here, what I call little chicken wings; the head will be really extended very far and the little face will be really close to the ground and you’ll hear your cat do something like this: [makes sound]. That’s what it sounds like.
I’m not that good at impressions. FritzTheBrave.com actually has a really nice video of poor little Fritz having a coughing or an asthma attack. Check that out, because a lot of people have never heard a cat cough so they don’t realize what it is.
Of course, the only way to tell whether your kitty has asthma is by taking your cat to your veterinarian. The veterinarian will definitely want to do chest x-rays. The veterinarian will be looking for certain patterns in the lungs that indicate asthma. Sometimes there’s some blood work done to rule out other diseases that could cause some coughing. Sometimes you have to go so far as to get a sample of the cells from the lungs by doing what’s called a tracheal wash when the kitty is under anesthesia. The good news is that if your cat is diagnosed with asthma, with some fairly simple treatments the kitty can go on to live a long and healthy life.
If you have any other cat health questions, please post them on the Facebook page of Pets Best Insurance.