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Does My Pet Have Asthma?

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Does My Pet Have Asthma?

Asthma is the most commonly diagnosed respiratory disorder in cats.  Although diagnosed less frequently, dogs can suffer from asthma in much the same way cats do.  Asthma is an incurable disease, but our veterinarians are experts on its causes and successful treatments.  Here are four things you should know about asthma in companion animals.

  • Asthma can be an acute (sudden onset) or chronic respiratory condition in which the airways of the lungs are constricted.  Simply put, this means asthma is caused by an allergic reaction that results in bronchial inflammation, which causes constriction and spasms within the lungs’ small airways resulting in dyspnea (breathing difficulty), especially when exhaling.

    Suspected asthma-causing allergens include pollen from trees, weeds and grass, tobacco smoke, vapors from household cleaning solutions and aerosol sprays, mold and mildew, dust mites, and fireplace and candle smoke.  You can help protect against these allergens by using a HEPA air filter in your furnace, replacing carpeting with hardwood floors, using dustless cat litter, not smoking, vaping, or using the fireplace or aerosol sprays near your pet, and wiping your pet’s coat off after being outside.
  • Diagnostic testing will help determine the best course of treatment.  If you notice your cat seems to be working harder to exhale, is breathing rapidly and shallowly, and/or is breathing with an open mouth, call us immediately.  One of our veterinarians will listen to the lungs and most likely recommend that chest radiographs (x-rays) be performed to determine if the lungs are over-inflated or if the airway walls appear to be thickened.  A simple blood test can also be done to determine if there is an above normal level of eosinophils (a type of white blood cell) present, which can indicate an allergic response.
  • Although asthma is incurable, there are effective treatment options available.  Because inflammation is responsible for constriction of the airways, anti-inflammatories such as oral or injectable corticosteroids are typically prescribed first and are relatively inexpensive.  Metered dose inhalers – for longer-term use – are also an effective tool in treating asthmatic cats and can include an inhaler used in pediatric medicine or an Aerokat inhaler device, which is specifically designed to be used for kittens and cats.  Other medications that may help your asthmatic cat include theophylline, an oral airway dilator, or cyproheptadine, which helps stop the asthma inflammation cascade.
  • Asthma is typically seen in middle-aged dogs and smaller dogs are more likely to have asthma than larger dogs.  Heartworm disease has many of the same symptoms as asthma and a simple blood test can help us rule out heartworm disease as the reason for your dog’s breathing difficulties.  Recommended tests to diagnose canine asthma are very similar to those described for cats above and corticosteroids and inhalers are commonly prescribed to reduce inflammation and airway constriction.

For more information about asthma in companion animals, please call us at 630-598-0600.