Effects of Feline Asthma – From the Cat’s Point of View
Feline asthma is a well-recognized medical disorder in domestic cats. The symptoms of this condition typically are episodic, which means that they come and go, or wax and wane, over time. Some cats have sudden or acute asthmatic attacks, while others develop symptom more slowly or chronically. Asthma in some cats is fairly mild and doesn’t really seem to bother the animal, while other cats have severe and potentially life-threatening respiratory distress. Regardless of whether the symptoms of asthma come on quickly or slowly and whether they are mild or marked, all asthmatic cats will have some degree of trouble with their breathing.
Asthma – What the Cat’s Owner May See
Owners of cats with very mild or only occasional bouts of asthma may not even notice signs of the condition. In most cases, however, owners of affected animals will notice that something is wrong with their cat’s breathing. The signs usually are most prominent when the cat exhales and typically can be heard easily by the owner or nearby people. These signs may include one or more of the following:
- Coughing (often sounds like the cat is “coughing up a hairball”)
- Labored breathing; difficulty breathing (dyspnea); comes on suddenly in acute cases
- Abdominal press when breathing out (exhaling); often visible
- Loss of appetite (inappetence; anorexia)
- Rapid breathing (tachypnea)
- Open-mouth breathing (panting; cats do not normally pant unless something is seriously wrong)
- Pale gums and other mucous membranes (pallor; cyanosis; caused by inadequate oxygen intake)
- Hunched shoulders (due to respiratory discomfort and distress)
These severe symptoms can also be seen in cats with pleural effusion and/or pulmonary edema, both of which frequently are associated with heart failure or other heart disease. When the consequences of asthma become this extreme - which is called “status asthmaticus” - the cat needs immediate veterinary attention. Status asthmaticus is a true medical emergency and should never be taken lightly or ignored.
Cats at Increased Risk
As a breed, Siamese cats seem to be over-represented among the large population of cats that have asthma. Parasitic lung infections are more commonly causes of asthma in cats living in the southern and mid-western United States, while heartworm as a cause of asthma is more prevalent in cats living in the South. Although asthma can affect cats of any age, it tends to be most common in middle-aged cats between 2 and 8 years of age.