Feline asthma

Feline Asthma often overlooked as vets look for more serious diseases


Feline asthma
Spacers are used to make giving inhalers to cats possible.

One in eight cats have asthma, but feline asthma is often overlooked as veterinarians look for more serious diseases.

Paws found this out first hand, as our Little Yellow was first thought to have;

  • Congestive heart failure
  • Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM), the most common form of heart disease in cats
  • Heartworm or lungworm
  • A Diaphragmatic hernia where the abdominal organ (such as the stomach, liver, intestine, etc.) moves into an abnormal opening in the animal’s diaphragm, the sheet of muscle separating the abdomen from the rib cage area)
  • And finally feline asthma.

When the coughing started to become persistently worse, Paws wrote it off as hairballs. We thought a long-haired orange Maine Coon look-alike could easily have some pretty serious hairballs.

Feline asthma
Little Yellow gets his asthma medication daily, but he doesn’t like it.

Persistent coughing often mistaken as hairballs

The coughing didn’t let up, and as spring of 2014 approached it got much worse. Little Yellow, now 6, would lay on the floor and cough, and cough, and cough. I was concerned, but as I was dealing with a human mother who was deteriorating with Alzheimer’s, I still thought hair balls was the problem. After doing some research and calling the veterinarians office, I started putting Metamucil on the kitties’ food each day. I bought some hairball laxatives and administered it every week.

Feline asthma
A spacer like AeroKat make it possible to administer Abuterol and Steroids directly to the cat’s lungs.
Feline asthma
Theophylline helped, but the correct dosage was discontinued earlier this year, leaving us asking our vet for other treatment options.

Feline asthma is often overlooked

One particular spring day, it was June 13, 2013 to be exact, the coughing became increasingly worse. Little Yellow was on the floor. He looked weak and having a hard time breathing. Mustering all the energy he had, he scrambled up on the coffee table and stared at me, asking for me to help him. Silently through his eyes, he was telling me to get help. He was very sick. I knew he was telling me he needed help, and I frantically picked up the phone to call the veterinarian’s office, who told me to bring him in immediately. It was a long half-hour ride.

I had to go to work. As my employer is not forgiving about absenteeism, I called my sister to come and take kitty home, if there was going to be a ride home. I thought he was dying. I could picture the needle being put into his little leg to put him out of his misery. I was beside myself, in tears, and thinking it was the end. I went down 2 more journeys that summer thinking he would join my others 3 cats on the Rainbow Bridge. I couldn’t help thinking about my poor Tubby, who had passed away some 3 years ago, with FIP. It was quick and deadly. Paws wrote about Tubby’s journey in FIP Fatal with No Cure Most Common in Young Cats like Tubby and The Little Know Fatal Cat Disease FIP Strikes Home.

Feline asthma
Lenny, luckily does not have feline asthma; however, he’s so curious, he had to check out the AeroKat.

Feline asthma mimics Congestive Heart Failure

Luckily he did not have congestive heart failure. That’s what I had initially thought was wrong. The X-rays showed a shadow around his heart, which was particularly disturbing. There were also some filaments, perhaps heartworm or lung

worm. As the practice had become a bit more sophisticated, they now offered ultra-sound. My veterinarian suggested an ultrasound.

That confirmed some abnormalities around the heart and it was believed Little Yellow had Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM), the most common form of heart disease in cats. However the cough was perplexing, as it is not a symptom of heart disease in cats. Little Yellow started taking;

  • Atenolol
  • Lasix (furosemmide)
  • Aspirin
  • Prednisone, 5 mg twice a day
  • Theophylline 100 mg once a day

The coughing persisted. He added Lasix (furosemide) to the mix. Little Yellow started pulling out his hair. His belly was bald. We added Atopica, administered orally with a syringe,to the ever growing list of medications

The first time I gave Little Yellow his medicine he clawed the crap out of my hand, and I came close to having Cat Scratch Fever. (Thank goodness for Peroxide and Neosporin.) After a while, Little Yellow came to understand the pills would help him feel better and he mostly took them pretty well, except when he didn’t want to swallow them. Then, it was a bit more of a challenge.

What was causing the persistent cough?

Over the next 12 months, there was little improvement. The cough persisted. We added the Lasix to the mix of medications; however, my veterinarian was still perplexed by the cough, which is not a symptom of heart disease in cats. It is in humans, but not cats. He  suggested we go to the Portland Veterinary Specialists, some 100 miles away. On June 11, 2014,we arrived. Their specialists re-did the ultra-sound and reviewed the X-rays.

Little Yellow was diagnosed with a Pericardial-Peritoneal Diaphragmatic Hernia (PPDH), causing the shadow on the X-ray. They advocated open chest surgery to fix it at a cost of $3,500.00 or more. There was no guarantee it would solve the coughing

My gut feeling was no. I remembered taking my Tubby to this same group and they wanted to run test to find out if he had wet or dry FIP. I asked if their findings would help research. They poo-pooed that. The outcome would be the same. Tubby had a very short life, less than 4 weeks after that trip to the specialists.

A Pericardial-Peritoneal Diaphragmatic Hernia with asthma

I asked about the asthma. They kind of ignored the question, saying well, yes, he very well could have asthma, but the hernia was a huge issue, and surgery should be considered.

On my way home, I wrestled with that idea. Was it the right thing to do? It wasn’t even the money, although I really couldn’t afford it. I wouldn’t put myself through that kind surgery. How would he recover, or would he? Would he and I suffer together for naught! I consulted with my veterinarian, who said as it was congenital it would be very risky. We agreed there would be no surgery, and we settled on a treatment plan for asthma to ease the coughing.

We discontinued all heart medications. The Theophylline and Cortisteriods continued for the time being. As long-term steroid use can cause diabetes, liver issues and other problems, we discontinued the pills last fall and started Little Yellow on a steroid inhaler, Flovent, so he would get the medication directly to his lungs. Now that  the pharmaceuticals have stopped making 100 mg. Theophylline pills, we are starting a bronch
ial dilator inhaler, Abuteral, which I have found is highly recommended online.

Little Yellow has his good days, and not so good days. He runs and wrestles with the other cats. He gets winded easy, but he remains bright and alert. His breathing is more labored than the other cats. Last winter, the coughing was more under control. This summer, it’s been a lot worse. He continues to be one of my Velcro cats, and he and Siamese vie for who gets control of their Mom’s lap. Sometimes they share together.

Chronic illness for a cat is a tough road

It’s a tough road when you have a cat with a chronic illness. The decisions aren’t easy. My sister says he’s a very lucky cat because many humans wouldn’t make the investment to keep him comfortable, say anything about alive. Paws thinks about what you would do with an asthmatic child. The answer would be to treat the disease as best you could, and end up showering that kid with tons of tender loving care. That’s our treatment plan for Little Yellow, in addition to lots of kitty prayers to keep him around for some more happy cat years.

We’ve been going down this journey for over 4 years, and we just keep traversing the long winding road to our next unknown destination with feline asthma.

Earlier this week, Paws for Reflection shared additional information about feline asthma in our blog post, Persistent Coughing is a Tell Tale Sign of Feline Asthma.

If you think your cat has asthma or any other health issues, schedule a visit with your veterinarian immediately. The contents of this blog post are for informational purposes only, and should not be used in place of professional advice from your veterinarian.


7 responses to “Feline Asthma often overlooked as vets look for more serious diseases”

  1. mommakatandherbearcat Avatar

    I didn’t know any of this … thank you so much for sharing your experience.

    1. BJ Avatar

      It seems like I learn something more about each cat through their health challenges. Asthma was certainly one of them.

  2. Ellen Pilch Avatar
    Ellen Pilch

    Excellent post, I hope none of my kitties ever have asthma, but I will bookmark this for the information just in case.

    1. BJ Avatar

      Look for a persistent cough that sounds like a very bad case of hairballs. The cat also tends to always have their head down to the ground when coughing. With asthma, it’s medication ever day and finding a cat sitter that can do an inhaler is more than a challenge.

  3. Fur Everywhere Avatar
    Fur Everywhere

    Asthma is really a diagnosis of exclusion in cats. There are several other things that can mimic the symptoms of asthma, such as heart disease and lungworm. I am glad your baby finally got a proper diagnosis, and I hope the inhalers are helping him. Lita has asthma and also takes Flovent. This summer has been terrible for asthmatic cats everywhere. Hopefully as the weather cools down, they will all have an easier time breathing.

    1. BJ Avatar

      We do the Flovent as well as Abuteral. Tis expensive, but he’s worth it.

    2. BJ Avatar

      Now the frost has come, Little Yellow seems to be doing much better with very little coughing. We also do Flovent.

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