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Cat Asthma: Causes, Symptoms and Responses

What's wrong with your cat? If your favorite feline seems to have ongoing issues with coughing, breathing problems, wheezing, and other signs of illness, he may be one of the many cats suffering from asthma. That's right -- asthma affects cats as well as people, producing many of the same symptoms and concerns. On the bright side, cat asthma is just as treatable as the human variety, and there are also plenty of things you can do to help your cat avoid his particular asthma triggers. 

What Causes Asthma in Cats?

Cat Sneeze
Like human lungs, a cat's lungs contain a complex network of air passages. Air enters through the trachea (windpipe) and into the the lungs' major airways, which narrow down into many tiny passages called bronchioles. This network allows the blood to dump unwanted carbon dioxide and pick up fresh oxygen from the lungs. Asthma is a chronic inflammation of the airways. As the airways become inflamed in an asthma attack, they grow narrower, restricting the amount of oxygen the lungs can draw in.
Feline asthma has many potential causes and triggers, although sometimes the cause of a cat's asthma remains a mystery. Common triggers include perfumes or other scents (including air freshener ingredients), tobacco smoke, mold, seasonal pollen, and dust mites. Clumping cat litter, which typically raises a cloud of dust every time it gets shuffled around, can also trigger asthma attacks. Some breeds of cats (including the ever-popular Siamese cats) seem especially vulnerable to asthma. Your cat might even have lungworms, a parasite known to cause asthma.

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Symptoms and Complications

You could be forgiven for thinking that your cat has a respiratory infection instead of asthma, since many of the same symptoms apply. Coughing, wheezing, sneezing, and effortful breathing could indicate any number of health problems. Frothy mucous, hairball-like gagging (without the hairball), gurgling noises from the throat, and a hunched-over position are other telltale signs. Your cat may seem sluggish, weak, and uninterested in food. Watch for blue-tinged skin, a sign that your cat's blood isn't getting enough oxygen.
Most feline asthma attacks are relatively mild and pass quickly, even if they make life miserable for your kitty. But sometimes these attacks can become severe enough to cause life-threatening breathing problems. Asthmatic cats are also have a higher risk for bacterial lung infections.

Asthma Treatment Methods

Cat Getting Check Up
If you think your cat has asthma, don't panic -- just take him to the vet as soon as possible (or immediately, if your cat is struggling to breathe). Veterinary centers know how to treat even the most acute asthma attacks with drugs such as bronchodilators and corticosteroids. These drugs reduce the inflammation in the airways and open the passages so your cat can breathe normally again. If you're not sure what's wrong with your cat's respiratory system, the vet can use a bronchoscope to look at the airways while also running other tests to rule out other diseases.

Caring for Your Asthmatic Cat: Preventative Strategies

Once your asthmatic cat is home from his doctor visit, do what you can to help keep his asthma at bay around the house. If lungworms are the problem, make sure he gets his annual wellness checks. In the meantime, clear out any airborne threats from your home. That means no smoking, no strong chemical scents or perfumes, and regular vacuuming to get rid of dust mites. If you're using a dusty or scented style of cat litter, try a different brand that doesn't come with these potential asthma triggers. Try these preventative strategies to see how your cat responds.

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