Asthma in Cats

It is not uncommon for cats to suffer from so-called feline bronchial asthma, an allergic inflammation of the bronchi (bronchitis). All ages and breeds of cats can suffer from the condition. However, it is particularly common for Siamese cats.

Due to the narrowing of the airways, sick cats are particularly noticeable through dry cough and poor performance. Since there is also a risk of anaphylactic attacks, the allergic disease should not be underestimated in any case.

How Does Asthma Develop in Cats?

As with humans, allergies can occur spontaneously in cats at any time. House dust mites, pollen or even scented cat litter in particular often cause an allergy of the immediate type (type 1) in the context of cat asthma:

In the course of initial contact with the allergens (e.g. pollen), the immune system releases masses of messenger substances, which lead to the formation of specific antibodies (protective proteins). These exposed antibodies then dock onto certain immune cells (basophil granulocytes and mast cells) and thus become cell-based antibodies. If the cat comes into contact with the pollen again after this so-called sensitization, a firm bond between the cell-based antibodies and the allergens is created within a few seconds and minutes. The result is a massive release of inflammatory mediators such as histamine, prostaglandins, and leukotrienes, which are normally located in small vesicles within the basophil granulocytes and mast cells. The inflammation mediators then cause a narrowing of the bronchi, which is typical of asthma, due to:

  • A contraction of the muscles in the wall of the bronchi
  • Formation of inflammable liquid and thick mucus
  • Strong growth of muscle and epithelial cells of the bronchial structures
  • Deposits of connective tissue (fibrosis)

How Can Feline Bronchial Asthma be Recognized?

Feline bronchial asthma occurs within a few seconds to minutes. How often the cat shows allergic symptoms, however, depends on the frequency of contact with the antigen. If this is in the immediate vicinity of the cat every day, the asthma is more chronic than acute. Affected cats show symptoms such as:

  • Dry cough and possibly shortness of breath (breathing in the mouth) and blueing of the mucous membranes
  • Increased weakness and reluctance to move
  • Redness, swelling, and possibly the formation of wheals on the skin and mucous membranes
  • Increased itching
  • Depending on the extent of the allergic reaction, asthma can cause life-threatening anaphylactic shock

How is Asthma Diagnosed in Cats?

If you notice any signs of an allergic reaction in your cat, a visit to the vet is advisable. A veterinarian should be consulted immediately in the case of severe allergic reactions in which the cat experiences shortness of breath and breathes in its mouth. This can significantly improve the life-threatening situation by administering oxygen and bronchodilator drugs within a few minutes.

Feline bronchial asthma is diagnosed after the owner survey (anamnesis) and the general clinical examination, usually on the basis of a detailed examination of the respiratory tract:

Abdominal breathing and, in severe cases, mouth breathing can already be observed during the inspection from the outside. Looking at the mucous membranes (e.g. in the mouth) also helps in making the diagnosis, as blue discoloration indicates a lack of oxygen. In the further course, a blood test can be carried out, which shows the content of eosinophils. If these immune cells increase in the blood, this can be a sign of an allergy or a parasite infestation. The latter can then be ruled out by a fecal examination. An X-ray examination is also helpful for the structural assessment of the lungs and the surrounding tissue.

A cytological examination can still be carried out in stable patients using a bronchoalveolar lavage, i.e. a lung lavage sample. Again, an increase in eosinophils is indicative of asthma in cats. Unfortunately, the detection of the causative antigen is often difficult, which is why the cause of feline asthma is often not found. It is therefore helpful to remove allergens such as scented cat litter or smoke from cigarettes from the cat’s immediate vicinity. If the situation improves, it can be assumed that it is the triggering allergen.

How Can Asthma be Treated?

Treatment for asthma in cats is provided as acute emergency therapy or as a treatment for chronic cat asthma:

  • Emergency Therapy: Acute and severe allergic reactions require rapid measures such as the administration of oxygen and bronchodilator drugs. Since this is a life-threatening situation, the cats must then remain under veterinary observation.
  • Chronic cat asthma: To suppress the immune system and avoid overreactions, immunosuppressants such as prednisolone in the form of tablets or inhalation sprays can be administered in consultation with the veterinarian. In addition, allergens should be removed from the household if possible.

What is the Prognosis?

The prognosis for asthma in cats cannot be generalized. There are many cats who show only mild allergic symptoms for life, while some cats are prone to anaphylactic shock. The latter can be life-threatening if they are not recognized and treated early on. However, if the correct drug administration is regularly observed or the allergens are removed from the cat’s environment, the prognosis improves significantly.

Can Asthma in Cats be Prevented?

Allergies occur spontaneously and cannot always be avoided. However, if the pet owner already knows which antigen the cat is allergic to, this can be removed from the cat’s environment if possible. It is also advisable to avoid smoking in the vicinity of cats, to use unscented cat litter, and to regularly remove dust from the household.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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