What is Bronchial Asthma?
Bronchial asthma is also known as feline asthma, allergic bronchitis, and chronic bronchitis. The condition can make it difficult for your cat to breathe and draw deep breaths, and can cause other conditions when left untreated. If you notice your cat having difficulty breathing you should seek immediate veterinary care.
Bronchial asthma in cats is a condition in which the airways to the lungs become constricted, usually due to inflammation. Inflammation occurs as a result of irritation, usually an environmental pollutant that your cat has been exposed to.
Symptoms of Bronchial Asthma in Cats
Symptoms of bronchial asthma in your cat will all involve an inability to properly draw breath. Since it is not possible for owners to see the irritation, external signs to watch for include:
- Dry hack or coughing indicating irritation
- Gagging or retching sounds
- Wheezing when breathing
- Labored breathing
- Rapid breathing
- Breathing with mouth open
- Exercise intolerance
- In severe cases, total inability to breathe, which may result in loss of consciousness
Causes of Bronchial Asthma in Cats
The bronchial tubes are two narrow passageways that lead from the trachea, or throat area, to the lungs of your cat. These are the primary passageways for oxygen to enter your cat’s lungs to be distributed throughout the body. Bronchial asthma occurs when these passageways become inflamed, which narrows the space available for the air to pass through. In severe cases, these passageways can become completely swollen shut, preventing your cat from taking in any air at all. Causes of the inflammation can include:
- Exposure to household chemicals or pollutants
- Allergic reactions to inhaled substances such as pollen, smoke, mold, mildew, or kitty litter dust
- Predisposition in brachycephalic cats (cats with flat faces) such as Persians or Himalayans
Diagnosis of Bronchial Asthma in Cats
Since many different conditions can have similar symptoms to bronchial asthma, your veterinarian’s diagnosis will attempt to eliminate other potential diseases or causes. Some of these other conditions, such as serious heart issues, can be deadly if not caught early, so an accurate diagnosis is crucial to your cat’s health.
Your veterinarian will begin by performing a complete physical examination of your cat. They will also listen to chest and airway noises with the use of a common stethoscope. This will help rule out upper respiratory infections or pneumonia. Your vet may also want to perform x-rays of the chest and abdomen in order to evaluate any potential changes in the tissues or structures of these organs. Your cat may need to be mildly sedated in order to be still enough for accurate x-ray images to be obtained.
Depending on the results of these tests, your veterinarian may also order a transtracheal wash. In this procedure, a small amount of fluid is flushed into your cat’s trachea and then drained out. The vet will then collect any cells or debris from the fluid to be sent off to a laboratory for analysis. Finally, your vet may also perform a procedure called a bronchoscopy in which a small camera is passed down your cat’s airway through the bronchi and into the lungs. This will give your vet an accurate picture of any inflammation or other changes in the respiratory system.
Treatment of Bronchial Asthma in Cats
If your cat is suffering from a severe asthma attack, your vet’s immediate concern will be stabilization. In these cases your veterinarian may administer epinephrine, which halts an asthma attack and temporarily allows your cat to breath freely. Your cat may also undergo oxygen therapy, in which an oxygen mask is placed near or over the nose to allow them to breathe deeply.
After initial stabilization, you and your veterinarian will develop a plan for identification of allergens (if possible) and management of your cat’s asthma symptoms. If the allergen cannot be located and permanently removed, your veterinarian may prescribe medications to treat and prevent further asthma attacks. These medications will typically come in two parts. First, your vet will prescribe corticosteroid drugs to help reduce inflammation. Next, a bronchodilator drug will help open up, or dilate, the bronchi. Both of these drugs used in combination will help your cat breathe easier.
Recovery of Bronchial Asthma in Cats
Recovery and management of bronchial asthma in cats is similar to the management of asthma in humans. Unless the condition was brought on by a one-time acute exposure, your cat will most likely need ongoing treatment for asthma over the course of its life. If outdoor allergens are suspected, you may need to keep your cat indoors to reduce exposure.
The medications that treat bronchial asthma are fairly easy to administer, but may have side effects. Prolonged use may affect function of various internal organs. If your cat suffers from bronchial asthma that requires medication your cat will need regular veterinary check-ups that include blood and urine tests so that the proper function of internal organs may be monitored.
While there is currently no cure for bronchial asthma, the condition can be managed with appropriate care and by closely following your veterinarian’s follow-up and medication protocols. With management, your cat will live a long and normal life and will have little to no discomfort due to their condition.