Feline Asthma

Feline Asthma: The Link Between Airway Inflammation and Clinical Signs


by Lorie Huston, DVM on January 5, 2012


Feline asthma is a disease which is commonly seen in cats. Symptoms are primarily respiratory in nature, with coughing and respiratory difficulty being the most common. For severely affected cats, symptoms can become life-threatening.

Treatment of Feline Asthma

One of the key features of this disease is inflammation within the airways of the affected cat. Because controlling the airway inflammation is essential in treating feline asthma, corticosteroids are often used to treat the symptoms of feline asthma. Corticosteroids can be given orally and frequently prednisolone is the corticosteroid chosen. They can also be administered through an inhaler. The most commonly known inhaler is the Aerokat inhaler and the corticosteriod Flovent is often used in the inhaler.

Other medications used to treat feline asthma include bronchodilators such as terbutaline, theophylline or albuterol. Cyproheptidine and cyclosporine are sometimes used to treat feline asthma as well.

In addition, avoiding irritation to the airways is important. Cigarette smoke can irritate the airways and cause asthma flare-ups. Dustless cat litters should be used to reduce irritation. Your cat should not be exposed to sprays of any type either, including insecticidal sprays.

Does Resolution of Clinical Signs of Asthma Mean the Airway Inflammation Is Gone?

Ideally, treatment for feline asthma, particularly with corticosteroids, would be ongoing until the inflammation in the airways has resolved. However, it appears that simply monitoring your cat’s clinical signs may not be a good way to determine whether the inflammation in the airways has truly resolved. This recent study reported by the Winn Feline Foundation looked at the relationship between clinical signs and airway inflammation in cats with feline asthma. The report concluded that:

“70% of the cats diagnosed with asthma or chronic bronchitis that had resolution of clinical signs (cough, wheeze, or episodic respiratory distress) with concurrent high-dose glucocorticoid therapy still had evidence of persistent airway inflammation based on BALF cytology.”

BALF (bronchoalveolar lavage fluid) cytology is a diagnostic test used to evaluate the presence of and type of inflammation present in the airways.

This knowledge that inflammation does not necessarily disappear with clinical signs is important in considering treatment, or more importantly, the tapering and/or discontinuation of treatment involving corticosteroids. The Winn Feline Foundation report goes on to say:

“The results support the statement that caution should be used when equating absence of clinical signs with the absence of airway inflammation. Premature tapering of glucocorticoids based on absence of clinical signs in cats with subclinical inflammation could be detrimental in the long run.”

Do any of you have cats that suffer from feline asthma? What types of experiences have you had with the disease? Please feel free to share by leaving a comment to Lorie Huston, DVM

This article is posted with the permission of the Pet Health Care Gazette