Feline asthma is a disease that affects 1% to 5% of cats1 every year. Veterinarians are not sure what causes asthma in cats, but it's believed to be allergy-induced. Although incurable, cat asthma can be managed with medication and proper care.
Read on to find out more about feline asthma, what triggers it, the most common symptoms, treatment options, and more.
Table of Contents
- Can cats have asthma?
- What causes asthma in cats?
- Recognizing cat asthma symptoms
- Does my cat have asthma?
- How to treat cat asthma
- How much does it cost to treat asthma in cats?
- How to prevent cat asthma attacks
- How long can cats live with asthma?
- Key Takeaways
Pro Tip: Asthma, diabetes, and cancer are just a few examples of chronic conditions that can cost thousands of dollars to treat over the lifetime of your pet. Fortunately, most pet insurance plans will cover these treatment costs, so long as the condition did not exist at the time of your pet's enrollment.
Can cats have asthma?
Yes, all cats can develop asthma, or the chronic inflammation of the small passageways in the lungs. Though feline asthma can occur at anytime, it's most common in adult cats between the ages of six and nine, with a slightly higher occurence rate in females.
What causes asthma in cats?
In cats with asthma, an inhaled allergen triggers an immune response that leads to inflammation and the production of mucus. This results in irritation and swelling, which constrict airways and make it difficult for oxygen to research the lungs.
Common allergens known to trigger cat asthma include:
- Dust and dust mites
- Dander of other animals
- Cat litter
- Tobacco smoke
- Smoke from candles and fireplaces
- Room fresheners
- Household cleaning products
- Foods cats can't eat due to allergies
Recognizing cat asthma symptoms
Several clinical signs, ranging from mild to severe, may indicate that your cat has asthma.
- Heavy, rapid breathing
- Breathing through the mouth
- Difficulty breathing
- Persistent coughing
- Gagging sounds
- Fatigue, lethargy, and weakness
- Hunched over body position with extended neck
- Gurgling sounds from the throat
- Exercise intolerance
During a cat asthma attack, symptoms are much more obvious and typically include:
- Noises when breathing (whistling, wheezing, congestion)
- Dramatically increased breathing rate (more than one breath per second)
- Complete lack of appetite and activity
- Blue gums and lips
- Breathing with an open mouth
In more severe cases, the cat might be completely unable to breathe, which might result in loss of consciousness.
If you notice any of these cat asthma symptoms, be sure to see your vet.
Does my cat have asthma?
There are many different feline health conditions that can have similar symptoms, so your vet will first try to eliminate other potential illnesses. Some examples include heart issues in cats, parasitic infection, and foreign body obstruction.
There is no specific test to diagnose asthma in cats, and your vet will rely on different testing to make a diagnosis.
The vet will likely start by performing a physical exam and listen to your cat’s chest and airway with a stethoscope in order to rule out pneumonia or respiratory infections. The vet might also decide to perform X-rays of the abdomen and chest.
Based on the results obtained from these tests, your vet might order a transtracheal wash, a procedure in which fluid is flushed into the animal’s trachea and then drained out. The veterinarian will then collect any debris or cells from the drained fluid and send it for lab analysis.
Finally, the vet might also choose to perform bronchoscopy, a procedure in which a tiny camera is passed down the cat’s airway into the lungs. This test will provide a clear picture of any inflammation or other changes in the cat’s respiratory system.
Pro Tip: Once you have chosen the best pet insurance for your cat, you can have a vet conduct allergy tests in order to identify any allergens so that you can eliminate triggers whenever possible.
How to treat cat asthma
Acute treatment for a cat asthma attack involves emergency care, including fast-acting medications to open the airways for oxygen so your cat can breathe.
Long-term treatment involves medication to decrease the inflammation in the lungs taken on a regular basis, even if your cat doesn’t always display symptoms. Your veterinarian might prescribe:
- Steroids. Oral steroids, such as prednisone, are usually the first type of medication for cats after an asthma attack. Some cats are given inhaled steroids, like fluticasone propionate, that are administered through an inhaler. How frequently your cat can be treated with steroid therapy depends on their asthma as well as your veterinarian’s recommendation. Your vet will consider the severity of your cat’s asthma condition as well as additional risk factors such as obesity, comorbidities, and internal health issues detected through lab work (like poor liver health or high cholesterol).
- Bronchodilators. Cats that don’t respond well to steroids might be given bronchodilators, which help open up the airway.
- Immunosuppressants like cyclosporine can also be prescribed for cats that cannot tolerate steroids.
How much does it cost to treat asthma in cats?
The cost to treat asthma in cats can vary dramatically depending on the severity of the condition and the diagnostic tests your vet chooses to perform.
In general, pet parents should expect to pay at least $250 for diagnostics and between $10 - $250 per month for medications.
If your cat has an asthma attack and needs emergency care, the cost could be between $800 and $1,500.
How to prevent cat asthma attacks
Although there is no cure for feline asthma, there are certain steps cat owners can take to reduce the likelihood of their pet suffering asthma attacks:
- Eliminate any allergens that appear to trigger the condition. Choose clump-free, dust-free litter and avoid covering the litter box to prevent a constricted space with increased allergens as triggers.
- Avoid smoking or vaping around your pet or using air fresheners, perfumes, scented cat litters, or other products that might worsen their condition.
- Wash and dry your cat’s bedding on a hot cycle regularly in order to minimize dust mites.
- Make sure your feline companion remains as relaxed as possible as stress can increase the severity of the condition.
- Obesity can also aggravate the disease, so it’s very important to provide a good diet and keep your cat in good shape.
- Consider giving omega-3 fatty acid supplements (such as salmon oil) as they have been shown to target the inflammation associated with feline asthma. L-lysine has also been shown to be an upper respiratory supplement
- Some experts suggest that bathing your cat frequently2 (at least once a week) might help reduce allergens, but there is no evidence that doing this will improve asthma symptoms or allergy symptoms.
How long can cats live with asthma?
Unfortunately, there’s no ‘cure’ for cat asthma. It is a lifelong condition but the good news is cats with asthma can live long and normal lives as long as they get proper medical treatment and their condition is well managed. Only in severe cases and/or cases that don’t respond to treatment, the disease can shorten a cat’s life expectancy.
- Feline asthma is a lifelong condition that can affect cats of all breeds, sex, and age but is most common in adult cats between the ages of six and nine, as well as certain breeds like Himalayan and Siamese.
- The most common symptoms include coughing, audible noises when breathing, and wheezing.
- Fortunately, most cats with asthma can be treated with medication that enables them to live a normal life. Treatment for feline asthma attacks involves emergency care and medications that quickly and effectively open the airways.
- If you suspect your pet is having an asthma attack, get in touch with your vet right away.
- Trudell Animal Health, “Cat Asthma: What It Is, Symptoms to Look For and How to Treat It”. Accessed Oct. 25, 2021.
- AAAi, "Environmental assessment and exposure control: a practice parameter—furry animals". Accessed Oct. 25, 2021.