“Aesha” was a beautiful Seal Point Siamese cat with the most amazing, alluring blue eyes. She was brought into the surgery as she had been coughing repeatedly over the past few days. “Aesha” was admitted for to the hospital for blood tests, chest X-rays and further tests which revealed that she had Feline Asthma.
Feline asthma is a lower airway disease that bears many similarities with asthma in humans. It is an immune related condition triggered by an allergic response to allergens, causing chronic inflammation of the small lower airway passageways in the lungs.
Symptoms include wheezing, difficulty breathing and a persistent cough. As in humans this condition is incurable, but the condition is manageable with the right care and medication.
Affected animals can become allergic to allergens present in their immediate environment. Suspected triggers include pollens, fungal spores, house dust mites, tobacco smoke, dusty cat litter, household cleaning products, diffusers and even some food allergens. These animals produce antibodies against these molecules. When later exposed to the same allergens, asthmatic cats suffer a form of type I hypersensitivity response, localised in the bronchi and bronchioles of their lung fields resulting in a constriction of their airways.
Most cats affected are young to middle aged, between the ages of two and eight years old, with a slightly higher prevalence in female cats. Certain breeds such as Siamese and Himalayan cats seem to be more predisposed. Although incurable, thankfully feline asthma is generally manageable with the right care and medication, and cats with the condition normally lead happy and active lives.
The most common first clinical sign is a persistent, recurrent cough often accompanied by wheezing and rapid breathing, or a noted increased effort to breathe. Most cats have respiratory signs for several weeks or months prior to their presentation to the clinic for examination, although some cats present in an acute respiratory distress without any prior clinical signs.
If your cat shows any of the symptoms above, even if they are intermittent, you should arrange an appointment at your vet practice for a check-up.
If your cat is having a full-blown asthma attack and breathing becomes difficult, it is particularly important to call the vet immediately, as this is an emergency requiring oxygen therapy, corticosteroid, and broncho-dilatory treatments.
There is no single test to accurately diagnose asthma. Other conditions which mimic these symptoms will initially need to be ruled out, including heart disease and respiratory infections. Your vet will first listen to your cat’s chest with a stethoscope and blood tests may be taken to look for a high concentration of white blood cells. A chest X-ray will be taken to look at the cat’s lung fields. A Bronchoalveolar Lavage (BAL) test may also be done which would check a flush sample of lower airway passages mucous and cells.
There are two main types of treatment to manage asthma in cats, anti-inflammatory drugs such as corticosteroids to reduce the massive inflammation which leads to the symptoms, and broncho-dilatory medications, which help to widen air passages.
Medication is often administered through an inhaler unit but can also be given in tablet or liquid form. Inhaler treatments can be administered to your cat using a Feline Aerosol Chamber Spacer unit.
With advised diligent treatment most cats respond favourably, though some cats can develop irreversible chronic lung changes.
Although there is no cure, there are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of your cat suffering further asthma attacks. Eliminating any likely underlying allergen cause is important, such as cleaning and hoovering pet bedding and bedding areas, avoid smoking around your pet, avoid using perfume sprays, air fresheners or any aerosol products, and avoid cat litters that create lots of dust or are scented. Also restrict your cat to certain areas of the house, to avoid any extra dust in the cat's breathing atmosphere. Bedrooms can be high allergen areas. Also, allergy testing could be done to try to establish the cause of the condition and eliminate the triggers wherever possible. As stress can aggravate the disease, ensure your cat always remains as relaxed as possible. Also, obesity can also increase the severity of the condition, so it is important to keep your cat slim and trim.
Thankfully, the beautiful “Aesha” responded very well to her advised corticosteroid and inhaler treatments and with regular check-ups to ensure her medications are right for her she has been a lot happier since.