Asthma in Cats

Feline asthma, sometimes referred to as allergic bronchitis, is very similar to the asthma we humans get. Asthma is an allergic reaction that causes spasms in the airway. These spasms can lead to swelling and difficulty in breathing. For some cats, this can be a chronic problem, while for others it can be seasonal or can come and go inexplicably. In some instances, once a cat’s airway is restricted, your cat’s ability to breath can become life-threatening in just minutes.

Cats of all ages and breeds can be affected by asthma. It can be triggered by stress or simply by the environment the cat lives in.

Some common triggers of feline asthma are:

  • Grass and pollen
  • Feline heartworm disease
  • Cat litter (clay, pine, cedar, etc.)
  • Food, household cleaners, and sprays
  • Smoke (cigarettes, fireplaces, candles, etc.)
  • Dust, dust mites, mold
  • Perfumes and cosmetics

Cats experiencing an asthma attack can show very few signs of distress, and sometimes the signs are not obvious.

These can include:

  • Coughing/Hacking
  • Wheezing
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Frequent swallowing
  • Gurgling throat
  • Open-mouth breathing
  • Taking quick breaths
  • Increased pulse
  • Runny eyes

If you suspect your pet has asthma, you should contact your veterinarian immediately. They will conduct a physical examination and review your cat’s history. They may recommend tests to help identify why your cat is showing signs of asthma, and to see if asthma is really the underlying cause.

These tests may include:

  • Chemistry tests to evaluate kidney, liver and pancreatic function as well as sugar levels
  • A complete blood count to evaluate if there are enough red blood cells, and to rule out infection and other blood-related conditions
  • Electrolyte tests to evaluate hydration status and choose proper fluid supplements, if your pet is dehydrated
  • Feline heartworm testing to rule out heartworms
  • Urine tests to rule out urinary tract infections and evaluate the kidney’s ability to concentrate urine
  • A fecal examination
  • Radiographs (x-rays) of the chest to visually evaluate the lungs and heart

Whether your cat’s asthma is a sudden condition or chronic, it cannot be completely cured. Fortunately, cats with asthma often do very well with appropriate treatment.

Options may include one or more of the following:

  • Medications to help regulate your pet’s breathing, such as steroids or bronchodilators
  • Oxygen therapy in hospital or at home
  • Removing the allergen, if possible, such as changing litter or food

Preventing Asthma
Since asthma is usually caused by an allergic reaction, identifying and removing the allergen (if possible) may help to reduce or prevent future problems. However, some asthma attacks are brought on by other conditions, such as stress, so focusing on alleviating stress can also help, as well. The best way to prevent asthma attacks is to work with your veterinarian to identify what the right plan is for your best friend.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Feline viral rhinotracheitis (FVR)

This is a viral disease which can severely compromise the health of your cat. It is highly contagious and one of the most important diseases to consider when looking after a cat. It is a respiratory disease and presents the following symptoms:

  • Ocular discharge
  • Nasal discharge
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing and sneezing
  • Fever
  • Lack of appetite
  • Depression
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Open mouth breathing
  • Tongue protrusion

The cat will often stop eating which runs the risk of malnutrition and dehydration. The ocular problems can lead to corneal ulcers and blindness. For this reason, it is imperative we take the cat to the veterinarian as soon as feline viral rhinotracheitis is suspected.

The disease is mainly caused by the feline herpesvirus, but can also stem from a calicivrus infection. Feline herpesvirus “can produce severe illness especially in young cats and presents a higher threat to younger cats and kittens” [1] . As it is so contagious, it is also very problematic in catteries and multi-cat households. While the initial causes may lead to FVR, the situation is usually complicated by accompanying bacterial infections and/or a weakened immunity.

To treat FVR, the vet will prescribe antibiotics and will usually provide supportive treatment such as fluid therapy and pain killers. As their weakened immune system can cause a loss of appetite, it is important we find ways to stimulate feeding. Lukewarm and more palatable food is recommended, but they may need to be hospitalized if they are unable to feed. Recovery is possible, but they will remain a carrier of the virus for the remainder of their lives and can pass it on to others. It also may reappear during periods of stress.


When you first suspect asthma in your cat, take them to see your vet.

Make sure your vet is a good one – when Tiger Jack had his first asthma attack, my husband and I had just moved to a completely new (and large) city. The first vet we tried in the area did a cursory examination of Tiger Jack, said he would lead a short, brutish life, and that we’d best put him down immediately. NOT A GOOD VET. If a vet does this? GO SEE ANOTHER VET.

(Let me repeat what I said above: Cats with asthma regularly lead full, happy, long, and normal lives! Tiger Jack’s asthma is considered mild to moderate he was maybe a year and a half old when diagnosed. He is now over eight years old. Not all vets are created equal the first one we took him to was a careless jerkface. Careless jerkfaces do not deserve to pet your cats or get your money.)

Any quality vet will do a complete exam – they’ll check your cat’s heart and lungs. They may do x-rays or labs, to look at their lungs or test for allergies. The vet may need a fecal sample to rule out lungworms. If the diagnosis is asthma, treatment depends on severity and frequency. Mild to moderate asthma may be treated at home with corticosteroids – traditionally administered in tablets. However, there are inhalers that are much more effective for your cat, with less side effects from long-term steroid use. Talk to your vet about the various treatment methods and costs. They’ll help you make the best decision.

Whew. Okay, I know that was a lot. And I know it’s a scary world after your cat has their first asthma attack. Just take a deep breath, imagine you’re holding my hand, and listen: you are not alone. There are 74-96 million domestic cats in the USA, and almost a million of them have feline asthma. Most lead long, normal lives. Do not freak out. See your vet. Minimize triggers. Follow your treatment plan. With these steps, we should all be breathing easier in no time.


A parasitic infection, such as that of heartworms or roundworms can cause cat breathing problems. Most worm infestations have a cycle which passes through the lungs. As the worms pass, trouble with breathing and coughing can persist. Heartworms are difficult to detect as the symptoms are general and can be caused by many different diseases or infections. A heartworm infection may cause weight loss, vomiting, coughing and rapid breathing. Roundworms are easier to diagnose, especially when a worm is expelled in the vomit or feces. Cats may become pot-bellied or have diarrhea as well. Roundworms actually ingest food and nutrients before cats get a chance to digest.

What is Feline Asthma and How to Help Your Cat

Dear Simba,
I have recently adopted a Simaese-cross kitten. Every few days I catch him wheezing. He wheezes for a minute or so usually when he is inactive. My friend who owns several cats said it was nothing to worry about. However, my other cat is 5 and never wheezes. Something might be up. What does this all mean? - Sophie

Dear Sophie,
Wheezing is not usually a good thing. You often find cats out of breath after heavy exercise. That is normal. However, wheezing when inactive is usually indicative of asthma and / or Cardiomyiopathy.

I imagine that it must be heart wrenching to watch kitty struggle to breathe. Asthma is a disease that causes wheezing and coughing. It affects young and middle aged cats (most common in cats between 1 and 8 years of age). Female cats are twice as likely to have asthma, as are male cats (Siamese and Himalayan get it more frequently then other breeds).

Asthma can occur any time of the year, although less than 1% of all cats will ever develop feline asthma. Allergens are the prime suspect in the cause of feline asthma.


Coughing with head stretched forward

Gagging with a foamy mucus

Breathing with an Open mouth

Overall weakness and lethargy


Cats with feline asthma have chronic inflammation of the tissues that line the bronchial walls in the lungs. The tissues may hyper-react to certain allergens, viruses, parasites (e.g., heartworm, lungworm) and / or infections. This hyper-reaction causes inflammation and an increase in mucous secretion that then leads to a decrease in the size of the airways which then causes symptoms to worsen.

Problem allergens include smoke, insect and hair sprays, dust (flea powders, litter, carpet fresheners) feather pillows, perfumes, and Christmas trees. Ragweed pollen may cause attacks.

Some cats may have asthma attacks in response to food allergies, particularly fish based foods that may be higher in natural histamines. Bacterial infections, mycoplasma and viruses may also contribute to attacks of feline asthma.

Cats with feline asthma have chronic inflammation of the tissues that line the bronchial walls in the lungs. The tissues may hyper-react to certain allergens, viruses, parasites (e.g., heartworm, lungworm) and / or infections. This hyper-reaction causes inflammation and an increase in mucous secretion that then leads to a decrease in the size of the airways which then causes symptoms to worsen.

Problem allergens include smoke, insect and hair sprays, dust (flea powders, litter, carpet fresheners) feather pillows, perfumes, and Christmas trees. Ragweed pollen may cause attacks.

Some cats may have asthma attacks in response to food allergies, particularly fish based foods that may be higher in natural histamines. Bacterial infections, mycoplasma and viruses may also contribute to attacks of feline asthma.


Chest x-rays show inflammation of the bronchioles in the lungs. Improvement of the symptoms wiith steroids usually confirms diagnosis if the symptoms and x-rays are consistent with feline asthma.

Because other diseases cause similar symptoms, tests are need to ensure the proper treatment. These are comprised of blood counts and chemistry profile in addition to a heartworm check, among others.


Corticosteroid is the most popular treatment of feline asthma. Most cats are put on an every other day oral dose. The treatment lasts for the remainder of their lives.

Cats with less severe cases of asthma may only need treatment during flair ups. Injections can be used in cats that are difficult to pill. Because there is a possibility of long-term side effects, the goal is to give only the minimum effective dose. In addition to steroids, some veterinarians use terbutaline to aid in bronchodilatation.

Another common drug is Cyproheptadine (Periactin), an antihistamine that blocks serotonin and smooth muscle contraction in the bronchioles.

Your best bet is to have your vet check out your kitty, so he can begin the proper treatment. Keep me posted. Simba

Hello Simba,
My kitten, Arizona, pants like a dog. I am going to take Ari to the vet soon, but I am kinda concerned now. Arizona pants when we exercise him. I run around with this mouse on a cord type toy and after 5 minutes he is out of breath. Is he out of shape? We have a dog he has been playing with since he was young. Could this be a sign of Asthma? Sometimes it scares me because he looks terrible, his tongue hangs out and he looks like a dog does. Have you ever heard of this? I cannot find it anywhere on the internet.

FYI, Arizona was a stray. We found him as a kitten on our cross-country move to CA, in where else but Arizona! This was during the summer and our ride broke down in the Mojave. that is the first time I ever saw Ari pant like this. It was extremely hot that day (

104 degrees). I had my friend rush him to an air-conditioned store about 20 miles away while I stayed with the broken down Uhaul. Could that have hurt his lungs? Dave

Dear Dave
You can check if your kitten is out of shape by clicking on the following Body Guide. However, I worry that your little guy may be experiencing feline asthma. This is a common condition amongst cats and can include sudden onsets of respiratory distress. Asthma responds well to corticosteroids and bronchodilators. While Arizona may still have occasional "episodes" the long-term prognosis for asthma are pretty good.

Another thing you may want to watch for is heartworm. Cats can develop respiratory problems as they combat the growth of these worms. The same may go for lungworm. Have your vet keep an eye out for lung-worm too. As for the heat impacting his lungs, it is possible, but keep in mind that there are a lot of variables at play here. Keep me posted. Simba

Dave writes: Thanks for your response. I am going to ask my vet about asthma and about the worms. I checked the Cat body guide chart and my fiancГ©e and I laughed. Ari looks like the cat in "overweight" but he is a kitten. we have reduced his food intake since he is getting older. and we exercise him now. I will keep you posted. Dave

Dear Simba,
My cat has been suffering from some kind of attacks. At first I thought she had hair balls although she had never gotten them in the past. When she has an attack she is not really wheezing or breathing hard, instead it appears as though she is trying to hack something up. Sometimes her whole little body suffers through convulsions. Her attacks last for about 30 seconds to 1 minute and sometimes she has them 3-4 times a day.

We tried treating for hair balls but that did not seem to work. I also tried changing her food. Again, it did not work. The vet suggested asthma and put her on a steroid. These seemed work at first but her condition later worsened. I do not really want to have to force steroids down her throat every day either.

Tazza is an indoor/outdoor cat and now that it is summer spends a lot of time outdoors - we live on a 5-acre lot. I still notice her having an attack once in a while but it is not as easy to observe her now that she plays outdoors most of the day. When she is not having an attack she seems completely normal and full of energy. She catches lots of mice.

Do you have any suggestions or thoughts on what might be troubling my kitty? If it is asthma is there anyway to treat her without using steroids? The vet I go to has only every done a physical exam. Should I ask for x-rays or something else? Melanie (and Tazza)

Dear Melanie (and Tazza),
Coughing is usually caused by lower respiratory tract problems. These can be caused by anything from irritation and inflammation caused by foreign materials to heartworm, lungworm, tumors and other causes.

Many times, the coughing is due to common problems such as the Sneezing Kittens / Watery Eyes, or it could instead be due to a chronic condition like bronchitis or other viral, bacterial or parasitic worm infections. Pneumonia is another possible cause. Bacterial infections require only a course of antibiotics. The removal of a piece of foreign material, or the correct drug treatment for lungworm or heartworm, can also cure or diminish symptoms.

If the coughing becomes chronic, the possibility of brining about a total cure diminishes. The reason is that chronic coughing is associated with chronic inflammation, which causes changes in the airway's structure. This means that even if the initial cause is treated the lungs have already been damaged and cannot return to normal form. When this happens, any treatment is aimed at controlling symptoms and preventing further damage. These treatments may include the removal of irritants, allergens or the giving of drugs or treating of bacterial infections, as well as the administration of corticosteroids or decongestants to reduce inflammation.

While less common than the other possible causes, tumors (cancer) located in the chest can cause coughing. Your vet should be able to detect these and recommend an appropriate treatment plan should this be the cause. Kennel cough (bordetella bronchiseptica) can cause coughing as well, but is much less common in house with 2 to 3 cats, as it is usually restricted to shelters, catteries and other places with a high density of cats. Some cat litter can cause irritation and may incite asthma attacks. It is usually best to use a a litter that produces little or no dust to prevent this. I hope this is of help to you. Simba

Watch the video: Dog u0026 Cat Diseases: Feline Asthma Symptoms (October 2021).

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