Can Cats Have Asthma?

What is Feline Asthma?

Feline asthma is a disease of the lower airway and airspace. It is a common cause of inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, known as feline bronchitis. Feline bronchitis can be caused by a variety of pathological agents including: fungus, bacteria and parasites, however it is most commonly caused by an “overactive” immune response. The immune system perceives an inhaled particle as a threat (known as an allergen) and begins to create allergen specific antibodies. These antibodies recognize future exposure and initiate a chain of reactions that promote inflammation, swelling, mucus production and constriction of the lower airway making it difficult to breathe. Possible inhaled irritants include: pollen, mold, dust, smoke and household cleaners. Stress and exercise can exacerbate clinical symptoms of asthma as well as trigger the onset of an attack. 

Is Feline Asthma Contagious?

Feline asthma is an immune-related condition and can not be transmitted from one cat to another. Onset of symptoms typically appear between the ages of 2 and 8 years old.  

Clinical Symptoms

  • difficulty breathing
  • wheezing
  • rapid shallow breathing
  • coughing or hacking 
  • open-mouth breathing
  • vomiting

How is Feline Asthma Diagnosed?

There is no single test used to diagnose feline asthma. Veterinary professionals rely on multiple diagnostic tests, such as radiographs, blood work, cytology (evaluating a sample of cells under a microscope), bronchoscopy and in some cases allergy testing. A bronchoscopy is a procedure performed under general anesthesia that involves inserting a small camera attached to a long, thin tube into the lungs through the mouth. 

Are There Any Treatment Options?

Feline asthma is typically treated with two different types of medication: steroids and bronchodilators. Steroids help reduce inflammation while bronchodilators dilate or “open up” the airways. These medications are available in different forms and can be given via injection, inhalation or by mouth.

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