Feline asthma is the most common lung disease of cats. It is found in about 1% of cats. Up to 5% of cats with asthma are siamese. It is found in young to middle aged cats. I
It is also called feline allergic bronchitis. The most common symtoms are coughing and wheezing. The wheezing form is more dangerous and life threatening. These symptoms are an emergency. They have trouble getting air in and out of their lungs because the bonchioles are constricting. These cats may have an incrased respiratory rate and may be breathing through their mouths. If the cats are just coughing and otherwise acting OK, it is not an emergency. The bronchioles in both forms have a lot of mucous plugging the airways. Sometimes owners think their cat has a hairball or is trying to vomit.
To diagnose asthma, x-rays are very helpful. They can show evidence of thickening bronchi called doughnuts or tram lines. Some cats with asthma may have normal looking lungs on x-ray. Some have overinflated lungs and the diaphragm may be flattened. Most are not infected, but about 25% may also have a bacterial infection called mycoplasma and will need antibiotics also. Some will have a collapsed right middle lung lobe because of mucous plugging. blood tests may reveal an elevation of allergy cells called eosinophils in about 20% of cases. Feline Heartworm disease can cause some of the same symptoms and so a heartworm test should be perfomed.
Treatment of asthma involves using corticosteriods and bronchodilators. If they are in an emergency, such as experiencing wheezing and difficulty breathing, injectable bronchodilators and steriods are used along with oxygen therapy. The cats are then put on oral prednisolone and the dose is tapered to give the lowest dose possible to keep the symptoms at bay. An alternative treatment is the inhaler steriod "Flovent". A spacer chamber with a face mask called "Aerocat" can be used to put steriods directly into the lungs. This has fewer side effects over the long term for the cats but it takes about 2 weeks to start working. The inhaler is compressed into the chamber and the cat breathes into it for 7-10 breaths. Many cats can be trained to use the spacer. Emergency bronchodilators can be given this way also.
Causes of asthma are usually not found. They can be allergies to pollen, cigarette smoke, dust, dust mites, molds and others. Feline asthma is a serious disease and can be life threatening.