Cat Asthma - Everything You Need To Know

Cat Asthma - Everything You Need To Know

Author Dr. Iva Pejnovic, DVM


Asthma is a disease of the lower respiratory tract. Feline asthma is considered to be an allergic reaction to allergen inhalation.

What is cat asthma?

Asthma is an airway disorder characterized by bronchoconstrictive episodes that are reversible.

Airway narrowing is caused by the thickening of the airway wall, mucous and cellular debris within the airway lumen, and bronchoconstriction, which results in airway obstruction that greater on expiration than on inspiration.

Bronchial wall changes are characterized by

  • epithelial hyperplasia
  • metaplasia
  • erosion and ulceration
  • edema
  • infiltration with lymphocytes, neutrophils and eosinophils
  • airway goblet and submucosal gland hypertrophy,
  • hyperplasia leading to thickened airway wall and increased capacity for production of more and thicker mucus.


Altered viscosity and greater volume of mucus produced in conjunction with a less functional ciliary apparatus-create obstruction and plugging within the airways. Bronchial smooth muscle is controlled by parasympathetic, sympathetic, and nonadrenergic noncholinergic nervous systems. Stimulation of various receptors causes either bronchodilatation or bronchoconstriction.


Asthma appears in approximately 1% of adult cats. Breed predilections are Siamese and Himalayans. It can affect any age, but asthma signs may develop at a young age than bronchitis.

Since asthma is considered to be an allergic disease, symptoms are usually triggered by inhaling an allergen such as

  • Smoke
  • Dust
  • Grass
  • cat litter
  • pollen 

Some risk factors may include air pollution, fragrant sprays, powders, dust, smoke, and cleaning solutions.


Symptoms of cat asthma

When resting above 40 breaths per minute is an indication to see your vet. Also, if you notice a cough or wheezing. The other symptoms that may occur include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Extended neck
  • Persistent cough
  • Gasping for breath
  • Open mouth
  • Lethargy

Diagnosing feline asthma

Historical findings often include paroxysmal cough with variable frequency, which may be associated with periods of respiratory difficulty, wheezing, and tachypnea. The respiratory difficulty is often after exposure to dusty, smoky, fragranced, or polluted air.

The cat is usually normal between episodes. Cats may have a short history of cough or present in status asthmaticus. But owners may confuse cough with

Physical examination findings are variable - depending on the severity and stage of the disease. Auscultation varies from wheezing and crackles to almost absent breath sounds.

The expiratory phase of respiration may be prolonged and forced. Tracheal sensitivity and sneezing may be noted. In moderately affected cats may be noted neutrophilia and monocytosis may be followed by eosinophilia.

It is important to do some extra diagnostic examinations and tests to exclude

  • congestive heart failure
  • pleural disorders
  • foreign body aspiration
  • pulmonary neoplasia
  • pneumonia, infectious disease of the respiratory tract
  • respiratory parasites such as Aelurostrongylus and Capillaria.

Taking x-rays is indicated. In thoracic radiography, bronchial thickening may be seen. Also, the right middle lung lobe may collapse, and small densities may indicate mucus plugs within the airway.

Aerophagia and overexpanded lung field, a flattened diaphragm, and peripheral lung fluid may be seen. Other diagnosing methods include bronchoalveolar lavage and bronchoscopy.



Treatment is usually outpatient. Some cats may be hospitalized if tracheal washes need to be performed. For treating respiratory distress, emergency and intensive care are indicated.

First aid is oxygen therapy for cats with tachypnea, cyanosis, or marked blood gas abnormalities.

Drugs of choice are

  • bronchodilators (terbutaline, methylxanthine, theophylline),
  • glucocorticoids (prednisone or prednisolone),
  • antibiotics to stop possible secondary infections.

Most cats will limit their own activity due to difficulty breathing. Obese cats need restricted calories.


Cat asthma is a progressive lifelong disease with periodic flare-ups and no cure. With proper care and medications, asthma is well manageable. You can prevent asthma attacks by ensuring your cat well-ventilated environment. Most of the cats can live normally. However, untreated asthma can be fatal.


Asthma is an airway disorder that is considered to be an allergic reaction in cats. Risk factors are air pollution, fragrant sprays, dust, pollens, smoke, etc. Symptoms may include:

  • Coughing, which looks like vomiting
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing that looks like breathing from the belly, not the chest.
  • Blue gums, neck extending
  • Open mouth while breathing

When diagnosing, it is important to exclude other factors such as lung parasites, cardiac diseases, hair problems, or other respiratory tract infections.

Drugs of choice include bronchodilators, glucocorticosteroids, and antibiotics. Emergency treatment may be indicated, and it includes oxygen therapy. Asthma is a long-life condition, but with proper management and care, cats can live their life normally.

World Cat Finder Team

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