Asthma Also Strikes Our Furry Friends

Vol. 21 •Issue 5 • Page 5
Tips on Practice

Asthma Also Strikes Our Furry Friends

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s true. Our faithful and furry feline friend, the cat, can get asthma (prevalence is about 1 percent). And as a matter of fact, their treatment is similar to that of humans.

Initially, some people aren’t too sympathetic when they learn cats can get asthma. After all, many people are allergic to cats, and cat dander is one of the most potent allergens that can trigger asthma.

The allergen they carry, a tiny protein particle called Fel d 1, is found in their saliva. They transmit it to their hair when grooming, where it dries into microscopic flakes, commonly called dander.

Dander and fur can be carried on the clothing and spread all over the house where a cat resides. The dander also can become suspended in the air for some time after it is stirred-up from a surface.

Signs and Triggers

At first glance, the feline asthma attack may be mistaken for the cat simply trying to hack up a fur ball. However, the coughing and hacking does not subside and no fur ball is produced.

The cat may have audible wheezes and demonstrate difficulty breathing with changes in respiratory rate, depth, effort, flared nostrils and prolonged expiration.

Like humans, cats with asthma are sensitive to cigarette smoke, smog, perfume, cold weather, pollen and ragweed. The same safeguards used to help avoid asthma attacks in humans should be applied to cats.

Most importantly, know their specific triggers and help your kitty avoid them.

With mild feline asthma, the symptoms are infrequent and minimal.

Moderate asthma will cause some degree of limited play activity, followed by symptoms of cough or wheezing and labored breathing.

For severe asthma, the cat is obviously more symptomatic, has very limited activity and breathes with the mouth open.

Treatment Options

Feline acute asthma is treated similarly to human asthma, with oral or intravenous corticosteroids and bronchodilators. Maintenance asthma treatment includes inhaled fluticasone and albuterol administered with a spacer and facemask.

That’s right—cats are treated for asthma with an MDI, a spacer and a special mask.

But don’t be too surprised to learn that some also have been treated with med nebs. (Visit and search for videos with words like feline, cat, asthma, nebulizer.)

As you know, the inhaled route minimizes systemic absorption and optimizes lung deposition. One manufacturer’s feline mask covers the face, and the cat takes about seven breaths after each spray of the drug.

Like asthma in humans, the cost of the initial and maintenance treatment can be expensive. For that reason, owners of a cat with asthma should consider getting pet insurance.

Although insurance can cost at least several hundred dollars or more per year, it will probably pay for itself with just an initial diagnosis and treatment.

Dogs don’t get asthma, but they do develop canine tracheobronchitis (kennel cough) and can receive inhaled medications to treat it.

The same company that makes cat masks also manufactures a spacer and mask product for dogs. The mask goes over the muzzle with the mouth held shut so the drug can be inhaled through the nose.


1. Padrid P. Use of inhaled medications to treat respiratory diseases in dogs and cats. J Am Anim Hosp Ass. (2006; 42, 2: 165-9).

Michael Hahn is a California practitioner.