Everyone has heard of asthma in people. But did you know cats could be affected too?
Well, they can and it’s more common than you might think.
In Australia, feline asthma is thought to affect around 1 in 100 cats, with onset typically in early to middle age. There is a strong genetic influence and some breeds appear to be predisposed, including Siamese and Burmese.
Sadly, many cases of feline asthma go unnoticed by owners who either:
a) don’t recognise their cat’s symptoms or;
b) pass them off as normal.
Understanding the causes and symptoms of feline asthma is important for all cat owners because asthma attacks can be life-threatening.
Similar to its human counterpart, feline asthma is characterised by inflammation of the small airways of the lungs and is thought to result primarily from an allergic reaction to inhaled particles (‘allergens’).
When the immune system of an asthmatic cat encounters an allergen, it produces antibodies against it. From then on, every time the cat breathes in that allergen, the immune system mobilises inflammatory cells into the airways. This causes irritation, swelling, and production of excess mucus, which constricts the airways and limits the amount of oxygen that can be absorbed.
The symptoms of asthma are:
Of these, coughing is by far the most common, and whilst it seems pretty obvious it is often overlooked, for two reasons:
Cats cough with their mouth closed and often with their neck extended, just like they do when they bring up a hairball
Asthmatic cats do not cough all the time. Instead they have episodic coughing which gradually improves after a few days. Not surprisingly, this is often misinterpreted as a passing infection or irritation.
The second most common symptom is an increase in your cats respiratory rate. This is a pretty subtle change and will likely only be detected if you are actively looking for it.
To check your cat’s respiratory (breathing) rate at home, wait until they are resting peacefully, then count the number of breaths in 1 minute (in and out = one breath).
Anything above 30 breaths per minute is considered abnormal and should prompt a visit to the vet.
If you suspect your cat may have asthma you need to seek veterinary attention. Asthma is a distressing disease that can be fatal.
To determine if your cat has asthma, we will need to ask plenty of questions, perform a thorough examination and most likely do some diagnostic testing such as x-rays and blood work.
Feline asthma is not curable, but buy using the appropriate selection of oral and inhaled medications we can control the symptoms of asthma and keep your cat happy and healthy.