« How is cat asthma diagnosed and treated? » | People who own cats might be confronted to situations where they witness their cats struggling to breathe. In some instances, their cats could then be diagnosed as being asthmatic. This begs them to ask themselves: « How is cat asthma diagnosed and treated? ». This blog aims to provide an overview of the condition and what could be done, from a vet’s perspective.
- Please, if you are worried because your cat is currently showing signs of breathing difficulties, don’t read this blog and contact your closest veterinary surgery immediately.
- This blog is intended as a source of general information for pet owners. It does not constitute specific veterinary advice towards a particular medical case. If you are concerned with a particular aspect of your pet’s health, please, make an appointment to talk with a qualified veterinarian.
What are the general symptoms of cat asthma?
Asthma in cats shows up as symptoms that should be taken very seriously. A crisis can potentially be life-threatening. This condition is also known as Feline Allergic Asthma / Bronchitis and is triggered by allergens.
The directly observable signs include:
- cough, which could be confused with the attempt to pass a hairball
- wheezes, a special category of respiratory sounds
- respiratory distress, which means the cat is making an active effort to breathe (dyspnoea) or can be seen breathing more rapidly than normal (tachypnoea)
The condition tends to affect young to middle-aged cats of either gender. The occurrence of symptoms can be linked with the permanent presence (indoor) versus the seasonality of allergens involved (outdoor).
Asthma is developed through a pattern involving the immune system. Allergens activate a certain type of cells, called T-helper lymphocytes, by which cytokines are produced.
Cytokines enable production of Ig E (immunoglobulin E) and the apparition of inflammatory cells (mostly a type of white blood cells called eosinophils) as well as the signs of hyper-reactivity occurring in the cat’s respiratory system, such as the constriction (reduced diameter) of the airways.
Constricted airways prevent normal flow of air in the lung, leading to the observed breathing difficulties. It becomes more difficult for the cat to expire, which is why pet owners may observe their cats trying to push air out.
The following sections will inform pet owners on how is cat asthma diagnosed and treated.
How to diagnose cat asthma?
Veterinarians are in the best position to help pet owners diagnose asthma in their cats. This will involve taking a history from the owners and carrying a physical examination.
The vet examination may happen at a time of crisis where the cat would be showing the signs of cough, wheezes and respiratory distress. It is important for the vet to differentiate those symptoms from other conditions where they could also be present:
- Pleural effusion (presence of fluids around the lungs)
- Cardiogenic or noncardiogenic pulmonary oedema (fluids inside the lungs)
- Pneumonia (infection related)
- Neoplasia (cancer)
- Interstitial lung disease
- Laryngeal disease(upper airway involvement)
Besides a physical examination, the vet will likely recommend x-rays, blood and faecal testing to understand the signs further. This combination of tests help the veterinarian to differentiate from possible involvement of parasites, such as lungworms and heartworms.
More advanced or confirmatory testing could include:
- Respiratory wash cytology, which broadly speaking is a lavage of the lungs, where the liquid collected is then analysed to understand the nature of the cells involved and/or whether an infection is also present
- Bronchoprovocation, which is a type of specialised testing done at a referral centre
How to treat asthma in cats?
In a crisis, the immediate priority is to stabilise the cat. It is highly recommended to minimise the stress associated with the handling of the cat and help him/her by administering oxygen, which is done at the veterinary practice.
A set of medications is used to enable the opening of the airways. Those products, depending on their types, can be administered by injection or through a inhaler.
In a chronic situation, since asthma in cats is triggered by allergens, the goal is to avoid the contact with those. In practice it will be difficult to entirely restrict allergens in the environment, so the aim is to seek a reduced exposure to airborne particles. For example, pet owners could use non-dusty cat litter, avoid producing smoke and/or using aerosols in the living environment of their asthmatic cats.
In addition, veterinarians can prescribe a chronic treatment to help with airway dilation and the reduction of inflammation. Veterinarians will also educate and train pet owners on how to help their cats at home, in case of an acute asthma crisis.
The prognosis of asthma in cats depends on the severity of each case and the symptoms involved during a crisis. For example, if respiratory distress is involved, the cat is at increased risk of sudden death. Patients with a good control of airway inflammation, through both medical and environmental management, have generally a better prognosis than those where inflammation fails to respond positively to treatment.
If you would like to obtain further advice, Visionimo allows pet owners to book video appointments and to speak with a qualified veterinarian. You can find more information here.