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Feline Asthma

This condition is also known as allergic bronchitis, with inflammation of the lower airways, especially the bronchi. The inflammation can result in narrowing of these airways (bronchoconstriction) which can greatly reduce oxygen intake.

There are two forms:

Acute (sudden onset within last 3 months) is associated with reversible inflammatory changes

Chronic (long term with often intermittent episodes) is associated with irreversible airway damage and can lead to emphysema

Acute episodes are triggered by an overactive immune response to irritants within the air, such as mould, smoke or dust, and usually the allergen is never identified.

Clinical Signs

Most cats are young to middle aged when first affected, and display wheezing and coughing. Often the cat may be normal between episodes

In more seriously affected animals the breathing may become seriously laboured, with panting and blue gums and even collapse.


Many cats require urgent medical attention if severely affected and stabilisation is necessary before even diagnostic tests.

A tentative diagnosis may be reached from history and radiographs are advised to both look for changes in severely affected animals, and to rule out other causes of coughing.

Airway secretions can be examined for the presence of eosinophils, a type of white blood cell elevated in allergies.

Bacterial culture and tests for heartworm are also advised.


Cats in severe respiratory distress require urgent hospitalization for oxygen supplementation, injectable steroids, intravenous fluids for shock, and bronchodilators.

Once the cat is stable, long term management is needed to help reduce recurrences.

Long term therapy may include:

Continuation of steroids with a tapered dose ending in the lowest dose that will control the problem

Cyclosporin in cats that have become resistant to steroids or that require high doses of steroids that may lead to side-effects

Bronchodilators and an antihistamine may also be used

Reduction of irritants, such as cigarette smoke from the environment, may help

Most cats respond well to therapy, but long-term treatment is usually required and the occasional relapse common. If the disease is not controlled, progressive, irreversible lung changes are likely.