Cat Asthma: What It Is, Symptoms To Look For, And How To Treat It
This article is part of our Cat Asthma series. Download the full Guide To Cat Asthma here.
Can cats get asthma?
The answer is yes, and it’s more common than you may think: cat asthma affects between 1% to 5% of cats1. The condition can range from mild to life-threatening, so it is important to know the symptoms and get your cat checked out right away if you suspect they might have asthma.
Keep reading to learn about what cat asthma is, what to look for, and how to treat it.
What Is Cat Asthma?
Cat asthma, or feline asthma, is very similar to asthma in humans—it is chronic inflammation of the airways in the lungs. Like in humans, asthma attacks in cats are often triggered by allergens or even stress.
When cats with asthma breathe in allergens, it triggers an immune response that causes inflammation which results in irritation, swelling, and muscular constriction of the airways2. This response leads to mucus accumulation and narrowing of the airways, making it hard for oxygen to reach the lungs. Once this response occurs, it makes it very difficult for the cat to breathe.
What Is The Life Expectancy Of Cats With Asthma?
Unfortunately, there is no ‘cure’ for asthma; it is a lifelong condition. However, cats living with asthma can lead normal and active lives, provided they get proper treatment and their asthma is well managed.
Asthma in cats usually develops between the ages of two and eights years of age.3
How To Tell If Your Cat Has Asthma
There are a number of symptoms that are indicative of cat asthma, ranging from mild to severe. Your cat may show one or several of the following symptoms:
1. Heavy/rapid breathing
The normal rate of breathing for cats is about 25-30 breaths per minute at rest4. If you notice your cat is taking more than 40 breaths per minute (when not playing or excited)5, it may be an indication of asthma.
You may notice your cat is lethargic after playing or is breathing heavier than usual after playtime. Lethargy in cats is a possible sign of low oxygen in the blood, which can result from constricted or swollen air passages6.
3. Breathing through the mouth
You may notice your cat is breathing through their mouth or panting.
Cat Asthma Attack Symptoms
In the event of an asthma attack, the following symptoms7 may be present:
1. Squatting position with neck extended
In an effort to get as much air as possible during an asthma attack, your cat may take a position with their neck extended upwards and their body low to the ground.
2. Blue lips and gums
When oxygen can’t make its way to the lungs, red blood cells can’t transport enough oxygen to the rest of the body. As a result, you may notice your cat’s lips and/or gum start to turn blue.
Your cat may be wheezing if they are having difficulty breathing. A wheeze is a whistling or rattling sound made when it is difficult for air to make its way through the air passageways. This is usually a sign the passageways are swollen and/or constricted.
During an asthma attack, your cat may be coughing or hacking. A coughing cat sounds a bit different than a coughing human—it will sound like your cat is trying to pass a hairball.
Causes of Cat Asthma
Cat asthma itself doesn’t have a specific cause; both genders and all breeds of cats are susceptible. Interestingly, Siamese and Himalayan breeds have higher rates8.
However, if your cat has asthma, there are a number of triggers that could be causing attacks9.
Common triggers include:
- Cigarette smoke
- Household chemicals
- Aerosol sprays
- Pre-existing illnesses or health issues
In most cases, your cat will start showing symptoms within minutes of exposure to the trigger.
How Is Cat Asthma Diagnosed?
Chest x-rays, listening to breaths with a stethoscope, and collecting samples are methods the vet uses to determine if asthma is the cause of your cat’s symptoms.
However, cat asthma is usually only diagnosed when other conditions are ruled out10. Some conditions that may have similar symptoms include:
- Feline Heartworm
- Respiratory Infections
- Foreign Bodies
The vet may administer special tests to see if any of these conditions are the cause of the symptoms. Taking a video of your cat coughing can help your vet determine if asthma is the cause.
Treating Asthma In Cats
There are several different types of treatment for cat asthma, including medications and modifying your cat’s environment to reduce the likelihood of asthma attacks from occurring.
Treatment options your vet may prescribe include:
Corticosteroids, also known as glucocorticoids, are the primary medication prescribed to treat feline asthma. This type of medication helps to reduce inflammation in the airways11 and is available in oral, inhaled, and injectable forms.
Just like in human children with asthma, inhaled corticosteroids are preferred because they target the airways directly. Inhaled medication uses smaller amounts of the drug and does not cause the same systemic side effects as oral or injectable steroids.
The AeroKat* aerosol chamber allows cats to easily use the same metered dose inhalers (MDI) just like humans. This specially designed aerosol chamber for cats captures and holds the medication to help the cat breathe in the dose.
Bronchodilators expand airways that have become constricted and are an important medication in emergency situations. Bronchodilators are often referred to as rescue medication because they don’t treat the underlying inflammation that brings on asthma.
Similar to corticosteroids, bronchodilators are available in inhaled forms that, when used with the AeroKat* chamber, target the airways directly for rapid relief.
In addition to giving your cat medications to treat their asthma, there are a number of things you can do to help prevent attacks:
- Avoid smoking around your cat
- Respiratory Infections
- Avoid spraying perfumes, scented products, or aerosols
- Use unscented and low dust cat litter
- Ensure your cat has a well-ventilated environment when possible
When To Take Your Cat To A Vet
If you suspect your cat may have asthma, it is best to err on the side of caution. Take them to the vet right away before the condition worsens. If your cat is coughing or wheezing, it may be indicative of a serious health issue and should be treated immediately.
In the event of a feline asthma attack:
- Remain calm. Your cat may become more stressed if they sense panic
- Administer bronchodilator or medication (if prescribed)
- Move your cat to a cool, well-ventilated area
- Take your cat to the vet
Being aware of the signs and symptoms is the first step in ensuring your cat’s safety. Learn more about the AeroKat* chamber and how it can help administer your cat’s medication safely and effectively.
Take the Feline Asthma Assessment to see if your cat could have asthma.
1 "Feline Asthma: What You Need To Know." Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. July 20, 2014. Accessed June 03, 2019. https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feline-asthma-what-you-need-know.
2"Asthma Symptoms in Cats." WebMD. Accessed June 03, 2019. https://pets.webmd.com/cats/asthma-symptoms-cats#1.
3"Caring for a Cat with Asthma | Feline Asthma." Blue Cross. Accessed June 03, 2019. https://www.bluecross.org.uk/pet-advice/caring-cat-asthma.
4"Feline Asthma: What You Need To Know." Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. July 20, 2014. Accessed June 03, 2019. https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feline-asthma-what-you-need-know.
7"Caring for a Cat with Asthma | Feline Asthma." Blue Cross. Accessed June 03, 2019. https://www.bluecross.org.uk/pet-advice/caring-cat-asthma.
8"Caring for a Cat with Asthma | Feline Asthma." Blue Cross. Accessed June 03, 2019. https://www.bluecross.org.uk/pet-advice/caring-cat-asthma.
9"Asthma Symptoms in Cats." WebMD. Accessed June 03, 2019. https://pets.webmd.com/cats/asthma-symptoms-cats#1.
10Paul, Mike, Dr. "5 Tricky Conditions You Might Think Are Hairballs." Pet Health Network. April 19, 2016. Accessed June 03, 2019. http://www.pethealthnetwork.com/cat-health/cat-diseases-conditions-a-z/5-tricky-conditions-you-might-think-are-hairballs.
11 "Feline Asthma: What You Need To Know." Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. July 20, 2014. Accessed June 03, 2019. https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/feline-asthma-what-you-need-know.