Feline asthma is a rare but significant and potentially serious condition that affects up to five percent of domestic housecats worldwide.
Most cats are diagnosed with feline asthma between the ages of four and five, and cats who live outdoors are much more likely to develop it than those who live indoors. Certain breeds of cats, such as the Himalayan and Siamese cats, have a genetic predisposition to develop feline asthma. Continue reading to learn more about asthma in cats. If you have any questions, call Animal Medical Center of Chandler at (480) 339-0406.
What Causes Asthma in Cats?
Although most researchers believe feline asthma develops as a result of allergens inhaled by your cat, there is still some debate over what the specific causes are. Like with any allergy, a cat's immune system will create antibodies to target an inhaled allergen. If the same allergen is inhaled a second time, your cat's immune system will trigger these antibodies to attack the allergen, which leads to inflammation. This inflammation will cause the airway to tighten, and mucus will gather in the air passage, leading to difficulty with breathing.
There are a number of allergens that can trigger feline asthma, including:
- Smoke, either from a fireplace or cigarettes.
- Aerosol sprays, such as air fresheners or room and carpet deodorizers.
- Household cleaners, especially those containing bleach, ammonia, or other harsh chemicals produce strong vapors.
- Dust, even from certain kitty litters.
- Pollen from grass, trees, or flowers.
Certain conditions can make your cat more susceptible to feline asthma, including:
Excess weight around the abdomen and chest can constrict the lungs. In addition, overstuffed fat cells produce inflammatory substances, which can make breathing difficult.
Any foreign substance that enters the body will cause your cat's immune system to send out antibodies to attack the intruder, which leads to inflammation. This is especially true when it comes to a parasite called lungworm, which likes to set up its home in the bronchi.
Even if your cat has recovered from this, sometimes the infection can lead to a permanent distortion in the airways and lungs, which makes breathing difficult.
This is called cardiac asthma and is caused by a backup of fluid in your cat's heart that constricts breathing.
The immune system can be triggered when your cat is experiencing stress. This causes inflammation that may lead to difficulty in breathing.
Symptoms of Cat Asthma
A lot of the symptoms of feline asthma can present with other diseases or conditions, which can make it hard to identify. Common symptoms of feline asthma include:
The breath rate of a healthy adult cat is between twenty to thirty breaths per minute. If you suspect your cat may be breathing shallowly, time how many breaths they take in a fifteen-second period and multiply that number by four. You can gently press your ear against their chest or lightly put your hands on their sides to hear or feel each breath. Rapid breathing is a sign your cat is having trouble getting enough oxygen.
A cough from feline asthma does not sound the same as the noise they make trying to expel a hairball. Feline asthma coughing sounds more like a bark but occasionally can be wet as he tries to cough the mucus up.
Fits of sneezes occurring regularly is a common find in cats who are having an asthma attack. The antibodies your cat's immune system has sent to fight the allergen cause a buildup of mucus that may trigger the sneeze response.
The constriction of the airway that occurs during a feline asthma attack may make your cat feel as though they are choking. Their breathing might completely cease for a second, though it looks as though they're trying to work their chest to bring in air.
Gagging and Vomiting
That excess mucus that your cat's immune system has summoned can drip down the back of your cat's throat and trigger the gag response.
Lethargy or Weakness
Because your cat's body needs oxygen, the inability to get enough into his lungs will make him tired and weak. This is one of the most serious signs of feline asthma, as it can be fatal.
When the airway is constricted, you will be able to hear your cat as they inhale and exhale. This sound may be accompanied by gurgles.
This is the sound your cat makes when they're trying to get rid of a hairball. The frequency of how often a cat has a hairball differs from feline to feline but should not be more often than once a week. So, if you notice your cat is making this sound and going through the hairball motions (crouched low, with their neck stretched out) more than that, there is probably more going on.
When your cat is struggling to breathe, you will notice that their nostrils flare as they try to inhale. They may be breathing through their mouth or panting like a dog. Their breathing is shallow and they're holding their head and neck low and in front of the body as though they're trying to straighten their airway. Their belly will swell with each breath along with their chest and they might hold their elbows out from the body as they try to relieve anything that may constrict their breathing.
How to Help Your Cat With Asthma
If your cat is showing any of these symptoms, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian. A trip to the emergency vet may be necessary if it appears your cat is really struggling to breathe. Unfortunately, there is no cure for feline asthma, but there are many way to treat it that will keep your feline friend happy and healthy. Give Animal Medical Center of Chandler a call today at (480) 339-0406.