Diagnosing a Cat Asthma Attack

Cat asthma or feline bronchial disease, occurs when the airways in the respiratory system become inflamed and cause recurring breathing problems in cats. Asthma symptoms can range from mild to severe, and can lead to permanent lung damage or be fatal, if left untreated. This condition can be, and often is mistaken for less threatening problems like hair balls. Cats with asthma will often begin showing signs with intermittent or infrequent periods of labored breathing or coughing.

Signs of a Cat Asthma Attack

Asthma can be caused by smoke, pollen, some aerosol sprays, cat litter dust, or even weather conditions. Diagnosis of cat asthma is often difficult. Because the symptoms can point to many different conditions, further testing will often be recommended. A dry, hacking sound that produces nothing may be an initial indication, and this may lead to possible vomiting or release of mucus-like liquid from the lungs. When asthma attacks become severe, cats will try different tactics to gain as much breath into the constricted airways as possible. You may notice your cat breathing with it's mouth open, or assuming the praying position to gain as much air into the lungs as it can. 

Diagnosing a Cat Asthma Attack

Once cat asthma is suspected, it may be necessary to have a chest radiograph performed. This test shows the small airways and determines whether they've constricted to such a point that air cannot be expelled through exhalation. This may be referred to as air-trapping. Lungs may appear larger than normal due to over-inflation, and the diaphragm could appear flattened. Often however, these x-rays of cats with asthma will be consistent with those of normal respiratory function. This test is not always consistently read, and can lead to improper diagnosis.

Tracheal Wash

The tracheal wash is a procedure that can help to discover cat asthma in those cats with a normal or misinterpreted radiograph. Cells called eosinophils will be abundant in the lower respiratory tract of cats with asthma and can be detected by this test. Eosinophils are white blood cells that are part of the immune system functionality to fight off infections and parasites, but may become out of control allowing for allergy symptoms or full-blown asthma. A tracheal wash involves a needle and catheter, and can be performed while the cat is under anesthesia. The prevalence of these cells will be detected for diagnosis.


During this procedure, an instrument will be inserted into the airways to examine for foreign bodies, bleeding, obstruction or inflammation. Specimens from the lungs can be collected and examined if necessary.

Treatment of Cat Asthma

Once a diagnosis of cat asthma has been made, corticosteroids may be recommended. Depending upon the severity, and prevalence of side effects, injections, inhalers or homeopathic remedies may be a better choice. Prevention of asthma symptoms can by accomplished by limiting the amount of smoke inside your home, keeping vents, ducts and air filters clean, limiting products in your home that are scented, controlling fleas and using cat litter that doesn't produce dust.