Asthma attack in cats is commonly caused by an allergic reaction to particulate matters in the air, although it can also happen spontaneously with no apparent cause. Over-stimulation of the respiratory tract causes excessive mucus secretion and airway constriction, which will in turn cause difficulties in breathing. It is a chronic, progressive disease that cannot be fully cured; however, long term management is possible, and cats affected by asthma can live normal, healthy lives with ongoing treatment. An acute asthmatic attack has the potential of being fatal and must be treated immediately.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
In milder cases there may only be a chronic, low grade cough, and the animal may show no other signs of breathing difficulty. More severe symptoms include wheezing, labored breathing, excessive coughing, and intolerance to exercise. Other signs of breathing difficulty are: breathing with an open mouth, and excessive movement of the abdominal area when breathing. Main means of diagnosis include presence of the above symptoms, radiographs, and a response to steroid therapy.
Asthma can be difficult to diagnose in cats, and is sometimes over-diagnosed. There are also other diseases that can cause similar respiratory symptoms, such as heartworm, lungworm, and heart diseases; these must be ruled out first before a veterinarian can be sure of the asthma diagnosis.
In severe, acute attacks, a small dose of epinephrine or other airway dilators can be administered via injection to relax the constricted airway. If the animal is indeed suffering from asthma, there will be immediate improvement to the animal’s ability to breath after steroid injection. To manage the illness on a long term basis, corticosteroid medications such as prednisone are used to relieve the airway inflammation. The medication usually comes in pill form, which must be administered orally; for cats that do not tolerate oral medication, it can also be administered through an inhaler. Feline asthmatic inhalers are a relatively recent development; they include a small face mask which ensures that the cat will breathe in the medicine, and are a very effective alternative to oral medication. It is also possible to administer the medication by injection; this is usually done periodically, especially when the cat is currently experiencing respiratory difficulty. Injection has the advantage of being longer-acting, and might be more convenient for owners if daily administration of medication is impossible.
Much like asthma in humans, feline asthma has the potential of being lethal if ignored. Nevertheless, long term management can minimize the impact of the disease on the animal’s daily life. Cats are also more tolerant to long term corticosteroid therapy, and are less affected by steroid side effects; therefore, asthmatic cats generally have a very favorable prognosis and have a normal life expectancy.