Asthma Awareness: Don't Ignore Your Cat's Cough

The first time that pet owners observe their cats in the throes of a coughing spell can be at once puzzling and frightening. These episodes often conclude without issue, and many of these owners tend to sigh with relief and shrug them off as isolated incidents. However, cats can cough for a number of reasons, and failure to determine the cause of your kitty's coughing spells could have tragic consequences. Find out what you need to know about the most frequently diagnosed feline respiratory disease.

The Asthmatic Cat

According to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, roughly one percent of America's cats are afflicted with asthma. Cats of either gender or any age may be predisposed to having asthma. Although some veterinarians diagnose the condition more frequently in Siamese cats, research studies have not yet proven whether or not there is any breed predisposition. While cats that venture outdoors may be more at risk for asthmatic attacks because they are exposed to more triggers, indoor cats are not excluded from these spells. In short, any coughing cat needs to be evaluated by a veterinarian to diagnose or rule out feline asthma as the cause.

The Asthmatic Cough

There are numerous reasons why a cat may present with coughing. Some of the causes include the following:

  • Bacterial or viral respiratory infection
  • Foreign body in the airway
  • Hairball trapped in the airway
  • Pressure on the airway
  • Parasites
  • Heart disease
  • Feline heartworm disease
  • Feline asthma

When a cat is affected by asthma, the cough is episodic, and these spells are typically triggered by allergens in the environment. It can be challenging to determine what your cat is allergic to, but common allergens include smoke, fumes from cleaning products, mold, mildew, pollen, grass, dust from cat litter, aerosol spray products and particles in the air from home renovation projects in progress.

Once your cat inhales something, it irritates her airway and causes an immune response that leads to mucous accumulation and inflammation of the inner walls of her airways. This causes her airways to constrict significantly, which restricts the flow of air that she needs to take into her lungs with each breath. The term for this state is known as bronchospasm. As your cat struggles to fill her lungs with oxygen, she assumes a characteristic asthmatic position that you should be on the lookout for.

The Asthmatic Stance

When a cat is experiencing an asthmatic attack, she will take on what veterinarians have come to recognize as a typical asthmatic stance. She will stand in a somewhat flattened, or crouched, position and extend her neck as far forward as she can. As she attempts to take breaths, she will cough and wheeze, and her breaths will be shallow and rapid. The intensity of these respiratory symptoms can vary from mild to alarming. If your cat is not receiving an adequate amount of oxygen, her gums will take on a bluish tint. Without proper oxygenation, her cells will start to die. Do not allow your cat to reach this point without intervention. If your cat is experiencing a coughing spell, bring her to a veterinarian immediately for an evaluation and treatment to get her breathing freely once again.

The Asthmatic Pattern

Veterinarians can often diagnose feline asthma simply by shooting and assessing a cat's chest radiographs. A distinctive pattern that is known in veterinary circles as donuts, which are little clumps of accumulated inflammatory cells, may be seen on the cat's lungs. If your veterinarian doesn't observe these patterns on your cat's X-ray, then he or she will likely order additional tests, including blood tests to rule out other causes of coughing, such as feline heartworm disease. A bronchoscopy, which is a diagnostic test that enables veterinarians to view the inner walls of a patient's trachea and bronchi, can be performed, but this test must be done while your cat is anesthetized. Once your veterinarian diagnoses your cat with asthma, a plan for managing your cat's condition will be discussed.

The Asthmatic Patient's Treatment

A permanent cure for feline asthma has not been discovered. The condition can be managed by reducing your cat's exposure to potential allergens and by providing symptomatic treatment when a coughing spell occurs. Try to take notice of when your cat experiences an asthma attack, making mental notes of where she was, what she was doing, or what possible changes in the environment had taken place when it happened. This can help you to better pinpoint the allergens that trigger her coughing spells so that you can take steps to limit her exposure.

When your cat starts to cough and wheeze, you may need to administer medication to help her to breathe comfortably again. Drugs that are used to treat feline asthma include steroids, which combat the inflammation, and bronchodilators, which open up the constricted airways. These drugs may be administered by mouth in pill form, or they can be administered through metered dose inhalers like those used by human asthmatic patients. Oral medications can also be formulated into a flavorful oral liquid by a veterinary compounding pharmacy.

By managing your cat's asthma, she can live a full and normal life, and you can both breathe easier about that. Contact a vet with a clinic like Elizabethton Veterinary Clinic if you have questions.

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