What is Narrowed Bronchi?
If your cat has repeated episodes of wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath, it is important for you to take your cat to see a veterinarian immediately. Your cat’s airways may be inflamed and narrowed because of asthma or bronchitis. Both of these conditions can be extremely painful, frightening, and dangerous for your cat.
Similar to humans and many other animals, when a cat inhales, the air travels down the trachea and then through the bronchial tubes, which carry the air into the lungs. When the cat exhales, this process is reversed. It is not uncommon for cats to have one or more conditions that cause the bronchi to become inflamed and hypersensitive to irritants, conditions which can narrow the airways to the point of making it difficult for the cat to breathe. The most common of these conditions are bronchitis and asthma, which are two separate conditions that are sometimes connected to one another.
Symptoms of Narrowed Bronchi in Cats
Symptoms of narrowed bronchi are often not difficult to observe in cats because they cause the cat to behave in ways that are not common or natural for the average cat. Unlike dogs and many other animals, cats rarely cough or breathe through their mouths. Therefore, when these behaviors and the symptoms below are observed in your cat, it is imperative that you make an appointment with your veterinarian immediately. These symptoms are:
- Coughing, sometimes expelling mucous
- Shortness of breath
- Open-mouthed breathing
- Increased amounts of mucous
- Strained squatting posture that resembles retching during an episode
Causes of Narrowed Bronchi in Cats
The cause of narrowed bronchi in cats is dependent upon which condition is present. The two most common causes of narrowed bronchi in cats are bronchitis, which has two main variances, and asthma.
Bronchitis is the inflammation of the various bronchi that carry air into the lungs. This inflammation occurs as a reaction to an infection in the respiratory system.
Acute bronchitis is the inflammation of airways as the result of an infection caused by an underlying acute illness. Acute bronchitis will resolve, often with treatment, when the underlying illness resolves.
Chronic bronchitis is a serious condition that results in the constant or repeated inflammation of the bronchial tubes even when there is no other underlying illness. In essence, the body is constantly attempting to fight off an infection that is not there.
Asthma is an allergic reaction to inhaled irritants such as dust, perfumes, mold, pollen, and others that causes the bronchial tubes to narrow, making it very difficult to breathe. Sometimes asthma will cause an infection that will then cause a case of bronchitis.
Diagnosis of Narrowed Bronchi in Cats
When you take your cat to see your veterinarian, the vet will likely begin by doing a thorough physical examination of your cat, ask you questions about the symptoms you have observed, listen to the cat’s breathing with a stethoscope, and make their own observations of the cat’s behavior. It should also be noted that Siamese cats are more susceptible to bronchial illnesses, as are obese cats. These factors will be taken into account. During your visit the vet will likely:
- Perform blood, fecal, and urine tests on your cat
- Test your cat for heartworm, which can mimic the symptoms of asthma
- Test for Feline Leukemia and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus
- Perform thoracic radiography, commonly called chest x-rays
- Perform bronchoscopy, which is a procedure that requires your cat to be anesthetized while the vet uses a scope to look into the bronchi
- Sample mucous or lung material to be tested for infection
Treatment of Narrowed Bronchi in Cats
The conditions that cause narrowed bronchi in cats are not uncommon, so most veterinarians will be experienced in treating them. Based upon the vet’s findings during your visit, the vet may prescribe one or more of the following treatments:
- The vet will likely encourage you to remove irritants such as dust, smoke, and strong perfumes or household cleaners from the cat’s environment
- If your cat is overweight, the vet may suggest changes in diet and activity that may help your cat to lose weight
- In addition, the vet may prescribe a medication known as a bronchodilator, which acts to dilate or open up the airways.
- A corticosteroid medication may also be prescribed to reduce inflammation in the bronchial tubes
- Antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent or treat secondary infections
- Oxygen cage therapy may be used on rare occasions
Recovery of Narrowed Bronchi in Cats
Acute cases of bronchitis can be resolved with proper treatment, even if a full recovery may take several weeks of rest, fluids, and sometimes medication. Chronic bronchitis will likely flare up from time to time and will need to be treated by your veterinarian whenever there is an episode. Asthma is a chronic allergic condition that occasionally disappears on its own, but often stays for the lifetime of the animal. Although it cannot be cured, asthma is best managed by keeping those irritants that trigger your cat’s asthma out of the cat’s environment, limiting strenuous activities, being consistent in giving your cat any prescribed medications, and having emergency medications on hand in case of an asthma attack. Regular follow up visits to your vet should always be a part of managing any bronchial conditions in your cat.