Treating Asthma in Cats
Goals of Treating Asthma in Cats
Owners of asthmatic cats can take comfort from the fact that there are a number of treatments available to minimize the symptoms and consequences of this disorder. The goals of treating feline asthma are to stabilize respiratory function, alleviate inflammation and remove the inciting allergens from the cat’s environment if possible. Of course, all of these goals are designed to make the cat as comfortable as possible.
Treatment Options for Cats with Asthma
Once asthma is diagnosed, the veterinarian will try to identify the underlying cause(s) of the cat’s allergic reaction. Owners are encouraged to keep an “asthma diary,” which records when the cat has an asthma attack, the severity of the attack and how long the attack lasts. While it may seem burdensome, an accurate record of a cat’s asthmatic episodes can really help the veterinarian identify their asthmatic triggers. Cats with asthma should be treated aggressively in order to minimize long-term airway inflammation and chronic bronchial damage. Cats with severe asthma attacks should be hospitalized until the crisis has passed. Sedation and administration of oxygen may be necessary to stabilize the animal. In emergencies, the veterinarian will probably administer one or more injectable medications to relieve acute respiratory distress.
A number of drugs can help reduce the number and severity of asthma attacks. Once the disorder becomes chronic, however, complete resolution may not be possible. The most common treatment protocol is to give corticosteroids to reduce inflammation. Bronchodilators will help inhibit airway constriction. These medications both can be given orally or in an inhaled form. In the past, nebulizers were used to administer inhaled treatments to asthmatic cats. However, nebulizers are difficult to use on animals – especially on cats. More recently, form-fitting metered-dose inhalers have become available. These inhalers are specifically designed to fit a cat’s muzzle and are especially helpful to administer bronchial dilation medications in acute situations. Cats with asthma also often benefit from periodic oral anti-histamines. In cats with secondary bacterial infections, antibiotics that penetrate airway secretions may be recommended. Incorporation of antibiotic therapy usually follows culture of airway samples. If the cat has heart or lung parasite involvement, anthelminthic drugs can be prescribed based on the specific parasite involved. Finally, cough suppressants are available for cats suffering from prolonged or exhausting coughs. Antihistamines and cough suppressants are used cautiously in cats, because coughing is a helpful and normal mechanism for clearing airway secretions.
Environmental and life-style changes are also important. Cats with asthma usually limit their activity level on their own. Obese cats should be placed on a calorie-restricted diet under the supervision of a veterinarian. Affected animals should be housed in a stress-free, clean, calm environment, preferably indoors, with a high-quality diet and free access to fresh water. In-house air filters can be helpful. Air conditioning and furnace filters should be changed regularly.
The prognosis for asthmatic cats ranges from good to grave, depending on the severity of their disease. If the inciting allergen can be identified and avoided or removed, the prognosis is good. Life-long treatment will be necessary in most other cases. Some cats don’t respond well to treatment and have a much more guarded prognosis.