Diagnosing Asthma in Cats

Asthma in cats is a common respiratory disease that can cause inflammation of your cat's breathing problems and difficulty breathing. Feline asthma usually causes coughing and wheezing, and some cats may vomit following a coughing spell. Feline asthma attacks often clear up on their own, but medication can help control and relieve the symptoms. 

Causes of Feline Asthma

Vets don't yet know exactly what causes asthma in cats, but they believe that feline asthma causes chronic inflammation in the breathing passages and tissues of the lungs. Viruses, allergens or infections may make this inflammation worse, and may cause your cat's lungs to secrete excessive mucus. The combination of excess mucous and inflammation of the breathing passages causes your cat's air passages to shrink, making breathing difficult.

Some allergens that can trigger asthma attacks in cats include:

  • Smoke
  • Dust
  • Aerosol sprays
  • Pollen
  • Perfumes
  • Feather pillows

Cats may also suffer asthma attacks if they're exposed to infection by bacteria or viruses.

Symptoms of Asthma in Cats

Feline asthma is often responsible for coughing fits in cats. Your cat may cough and wheeze intermittently, or, if your cat's asthma is severe, coughing and wheezing may become chronic and persistent. 

If your cat suffers an asthma attack, he might look like he's trying to cough something up. He may stretch his neck out and hold his head forward while coughing. Your cat may vomit after a coughing spell.

If your cat suffers a severe asthma attack, he may go into acute respiratory distress and may begin to pant or breathe through his open mouth. If you think your cat is experiencing respiratory distress, seek emergency veterinary care immediately.

Diagnosing Feline Asthma

Your vet will diagnose feline asthma by performing a thorough physical exam and taking a complete medical history. Your vet will want to rule out other causes of feline coughing and wheezing, so he may perform a range of tests. He'll check for heartworm, lungworm and bacterial infection. Your vet may take chest X-rays to determine the extent of any bronchial inflammation; X-rays can also help your vet identify changes in lung tissue associated with feline asthma.

Treating Feline Asthma

Treatment for feline asthma depends on the severity of your cat's asthma symptoms. If symptoms are mild, your vet will recommend controlling your cat's weight and keeping him away from allergens and other substances that might aggravate his condition. Your vet may recommend allergy medications.

If your cat suffers the symptoms of feline asthma frequently, your vet can prescribe a feline inhaler to help control and relieve them, even if your cat's symptoms are mild. Your cat may need some time to become comfortable with the feline inhaler apparatus before you can begin administering inhalant medication.

If your cat's asthma symptoms are more severe, he may need oral steroids to reduce the inflammation in his lungs. Your cat may need to receive oral medication for up to two weeks after symptoms first appear. Steroid medications can't cure asthma, but they can control your cat's symptoms until the asthma attack resolves itself. 

If your cat experiences respiratory distress, he'll need emergency care and hospitalization.