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RESPIRATORY EMERGENCIES: ASTHMA

Feline Asthma

Feline bronchitis or asthma is a common respiratory emergency in cats which is characterized by a sudden onset of coughing, wheezing, and respiratory distress. "Attacks" are precipitated by recent exposure to dust (household, litter box), talcum powder, smoke, or other substances that trigger an acute allergic response in sensitized cats. An attack may happen at any time, however, many are seen in the spring and fall when air conditioning and heating units are first turned on for the season. An asthmatic attack requires prompt attention and treatment should be sought immediately.

Symptoms:

  • Acute onset of labored breathing (dyspnea)
  • Open mouth breathing / panting
  • Drooling
  • Clawing at the face
  • Blue / purple gums (cyanosis)
  • Wheezing

Diagnosis:

Diagnosis is based on clinical signs and radiographs. At a physical the cat will show signs of labored breathing including forceful prolonged expiration, wheezing, coughing, and open mouth breathing. Lung sounds will be harsh with expiratory wheezes. Generalized abdominal distension and a distended gas-filled stomach is often palpated or felt. Radiographs of the chest show an expanded lung field and a prominent bronchial pattern within the lung fields is seen. Radiographs should be taken in all cats suspected of asthma once cats are stable enough. In severely dyspnic animals, treatment must be initiated on physical signs only for restraint needed for x-rays may kill the cat.

Treatment:

Emergency treatment includes steroids, sedatives, drugs to dilate the small airways, and oxygen. All stress must be avoided until the cat stabilizes. Response to and duration of therapy varies greatly between individual cats. It is most important to try to identify the underlying cause of the attack and remove the source, such as switching to a less dusty litter or using torn paper in the cat box. As long as the inciting cause is present, the cat will be likely to suffer from chronic bronchitis and acute asthma attacks.

Prognosis:

The prognosis will be guarded to fair depending on the duration of attack, individual response to treatment, and on identifying and removing the source of bronchitis.