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Feline asthma can be life-threatening

Q: What can you tell us about feline asthma? Our daughter’s cat was recently diagnosed.

A: Like human asthma, feline asthma is a respiratory disease characterized by airway constriction. Most cats with asthma intermittently cough, wheeze or show decreased energy.

At any time, however, an asthmatic cat can suffer a life-threatening asthma attack with rapid, open-mouth breathing and exaggerated abdominal movements that signal severe respiratory distress.

Asthma usually is diagnosed when the cat is young to middle-aged. Siamese cats may be at increased risk. Chest radiographs (x-rays) aid in making the diagnosis.

Treatment focuses on decreasing airway inflammation and constriction to relieve the clinical signs and prevent asthma attacks. Most cats do well with steroids inhaled through an AeroKat device, which is similar to the spacer and face mask used by human infants with asthma. During an asthma attack, bronchodilator medication can be added to relax and open the airways.

Asthma attacks can occur for no apparent reason or be triggered by allergies, smoke or aerosol sprays. Your daughter should use a dustless cat litter and replace furnace filters regularly to minimize irritants in the air.

Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine. Contact her at

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