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Millie is a beautiful ragdoll cat who had coughed from time to time over many years. Recently the cough became more frequent prompting her owners to have it checked out. They had fortunately taken some video footage of her coughing so we were able to immediately localise the problem as a respiratory disease (rather than trying to retch up a hairball for instance – a behaviour sometimes mistaken for coughing).

We took some xrays of Millie’s lungs which showed the tell-tale signs of feline asthma – thickening of the bronchioles (small airways within the lungs).

It often surprises people to hear that cats can get asthma too. In fact the disease process and treatment is quite similar in people and cats. Sometimes there is an identifiable trigger for the asthma, like room perfumes, cigarette smoke or mould and preventing exposure to these can solve the problem. More commonly there is either no identifiable trigger, or it may be a seasonal issue triggered by pollenating plants etc in which case exposure prevention isn’t possible and instead we rely on medication. The cornerstone of treatment is corticosteroids and bronchodilators. These are usually administered as tablets initially, then we try and transfer the cats onto inhalers (puffers) once the disease is under control. This allows us to target the medication at the lungs exclusively, where it is needed. There are special spacers available made just for cats. Unfortunately not all cats will tolerate them though and end up staying on oral medications longer term.

Left untreated over a long period feline asthma can cause chronic irreversible changes in the lungs (bronchiectasis), but response to treatment is usually excellent so we always encourage investigating any unexplained coughing in cats.

Within 3 days of starting treatment Millie stopped coughing, and hasn’t coughed once since. Her owners are about to try her on the puffer but aren’t convinced she’ll tolerate it!