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Health & Wellness

Can cats have asthma?

Yes, and here’s how to manage this condition.

If your cat is hacking or vigorously coughing, it’s fair to assume that they’re struggling with a massive furball. But, if your cat’s coughing continues without anything coming up, they could have asthma.

“Feline asthma is a hypersensitivity reaction to various airborne allergens,” Dr. Aliya McCullough, Fetch’s on-staff veterinarian, explains. “A hypersensitivity reaction is an overreaction or exaggerated response of the immune system, which may cause damage, pain and dysfunction.”

Cat asthma can lead to swelling of a cat’s airway, muscle spasms, constriction and more mucus production, she adds. Asthma can take a toll on a cat’s body, so getting them the help they need as soon as you spot symptoms is essential. Here’s what you need to know about this condition.

What’s cat asthma caused by?

Several allergens can trigger cat asthma, Dr. McCullough says. Common causes of cat asthma are dust (or dust mites), cigarette smoke, mildew, mold, weeds, trees, pollen, powders, household chemicals and even cat litter. 

What are the symptoms of cat asthma?

It’s normal to confuse asthma with your cat coughing up a furball, Dr. McCullough says. Cat asthma symptoms include coughing, wheezing, a quicker respiratory rate (the speed of your cat’s breathing) and difficulty breathing. 

Dr. McCullough recommends reaching out to your veterinarian to schedule testing to determine if your cat is struggling with asthma. 

RELATED: Can cats get COVID-19?

What are the symptoms of a cat asthma attack? 

“Signs of an asthma attack in cats can be very subtle and include rapid breathing, coughing, open-mouth breathing, lethargy, decreased appetite and vomiting.”

If you think your cat is having an asthma attack, Dr. McCullough adds that they may also stand in a hunched position and stretch out their necks. 

How do veterinarians diagnose cat asthma? 

When you take your cat to the vet’s office for an asthma diagnosis, there are a couple of things you can expect. Veterinarians usually perform a physical exam, blood work and chest X-rays, Dr. McCullough says. In some cases, the following treatments are necessary to determine if a cat has asthma:

  • Bronchoscopy, which is when a thin tube with a light and camera examines and takes a sample of a cat's respiratory tract (a cat will be under anesthesia for this treatment). 
  • Cytology, which is when a veterinarian identifies cats' cells. 
  • Culture is when veterinarians detect and identify bacteria in cats' respiratory fluid samples.

“Most cats with feline asthma are diagnosed around 4 years old,” she adds. “Siamese cats are thought to have a predisposition to feline asthma, but this has not been proven. There’s no sex predilection for feline asthma.”

What are the treatments for cat asthma? 

Unfortunately, asthma is a lifelong condition that’s not curable, Dr. McCullough shares. However, there are some vet-approved ways to manage the condition. 

“Feline asthma treatment is centered on reducing swelling and airway constriction. Feline asthma is typically treated with steroid medication, orally or via an inhaler,” she adds.  

If your cat is unable to take steroid medications, your veterinarian may suggest immunosuppressive medications, or they may be prescribed bronchodilators, which are medications that open cats’ airways, Dr. McCullough says.

How to treat cat asthma at home

When it comes to treating cat asthma, you should let your veterinarian handle it. According to Dr. McCullough, since the treatments for cat asthma focus on reducing swelling and constriction of a cat’s airways, you’ll need vet-approved medications. 

However, there are some ways to prevent asthma attacks while at home, she says. 

“Pet parents can limit exposure to allergens by using a HEPA air filter and frequent vacuuming and cleaning of pet bedding,” she shares. “Pet parents should follow their veterinarian’s instructions for management of their cat’s feline asthma.”

The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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