What is asthma in a cat?
Asthma is yet another disease that cats can get just like people. It's basically when a cat has trouble breathing because of a narrowing and contraction of the muscles around its airways. It's not especially common, but not that rare either - about 1% of cats have it.
What are the symptoms?
Cats with asthma will have coughing fits. Depending on the severity, it can happen only occasionally or it can be a frequent thing. It sort of sounds like the cat has a hairball and is trying to cough it out. The cat may wheeze when it breathes, and panting and breathing from the mouth are often common symptoms as well. Sometimes they will squat down during coughing fits.
What causes it?
The asthma itself is a problem with the cat's body - its airways are too sensitive, and they react very badly to irritants. What causes the coughing fits and breathing problems are a different matter - the cat is reacting to a specific irritant in the air. This can be an allergen, such as smoke from cigarettes or the fireplace, pollen from plants, dust in the air or from the cat litter, mold, or airborne chemicals in the house such as hairspray or other cleaners.
What is the treatment?
This is a chronic condition - it lasts for life, and there isn't a cure as of now. However, it can be managed so that it does not worsen and so that the cat does not have frequent attacks.
1) Get rid of the causes. If you have any of the things that can cause asthma attacks in cats in your house, then try to get rid of them or get a substitute. Switch to a clay-based litter so there is less dust. Smoke outside. Use your deodorant or hairspray or cleaners or whatever away from the cat.
2) Get an air purifier. That can reduce dust in the air and make it less irritating to the cat.
3) Get the cat on a weight loss plan if it's obese. Fat cats have health problems in general, but it makes breathing problems worse specifically.
4) There are inhalers for cats, and you should talk to your vet about getting one. However, cats that fight against them are hard to use them on - it pretty much takes a cooperative cat.
5) There are also drugs that are used to treat it sometimes. Steroids are a big one, because they reduce mucus production, which can irritate the cat.
6) Make sure your cat is tested for other diseases, because there are many that mimic the symptoms, and some of them can be very serious. These include heartworms, hairball issues, and some of the more serious diseases like feline HIV and also feline leukemia can cause similar symptoms.
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