— As temperatures lower, many who suffer from asthma and other respiratory problems will begin an annual ritual of carrying inhalers and scarfs to help their lungs compensate for the cold air. Some may not know that cats are also susceptible to these respiratory problems, in many of the same ways as people.
In humans, asthma during the winter is often triggered by the effects of cold air on the respiratory system. Other causes - such as the declining quality of indoor air and an increase of indoor allergens - also play a factor.
Asthma in cats can be triggered by many sources such as dust, cigarette smoke and household sprays. Cats may suffer seasonal allergies from molds, plants or mites, said Melanie Bolling, a clinical instructor on the primary care rotation at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.
Though it may be difficult, it's worth discovering what initiates a cat’s asthma. The cat's health can improve drastically by ensuring it isn't exposed to the respiratory irritant.
Signs of a cat suffering from asthma include noticeable exercise intolerance, changes in routine or behavior, open mouth breathing, intermittent coughing or decreased appetite, said Bolling.
Wheezing and airway constriction occur in extreme cases and could be life-threatening. If you notice your cat open-mouth breathing or coughing regularly, consult a veterinarian immediately.
“Many times, owners tell me that their cat is just quiet and not himself," said Bolling. "Cats are very secretive creatures, and they are very good at hiding their illnesses from us. Unfortunately this often means that owners don't know something is wrong until the cat is severely ill.”
Most cases require tests to identify asthma, as many symptoms mimic other problems, such as heart worms or pneumonia. Common diagnostic tests for asthma include chest radiographs and a trans-tracheal or bronchial wash that samples the cat’s airways.
Preventative measures are among the most effective ways to keep a cat from experiencing reoccurring asthma, by ensuring its respiratory tract is not irritated. Such steps include keeping cats away from smoke, freshly cut grass, moldy places such as basements or attics, and places that are exceptionally dusty.
Humidifiers and air purifiers also ensure everyone in the home -- including your cat -- breathes air free of allergens and irritants.
“Try using HEPA filters and changing the filters on the heaters/air conditioning vents often,” said Bolling. “Cats with asthma should not live in homes where they are exposed to cigarette smoke.”
While not curable, asthma in pets can be treated with medications approved by your veterinarian. Medications may be necessary to lower the frequency and severity of a cat’s asthma. In severe cases, oxygen therapy, which delivers supplemental oxygen to a feline’s airway via a mask on the cat’s face, may be necessary.
Pets with asthma can live a long and happy life with the proper medication and care.
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.