Feline asthma, like human asthma, is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition if not treated properly. If your cat exhibits any of the symptoms detailed below which are indicative of feline asthma, take him to the vet as soon as possible to be evaluated and properly diagnosed. A proper diagnosis may include lung X-rays. Once your pet has been diagnosed with asthma, in addition to working with your vet to determine the most effective traditional treatment plan, you may want to consider including a variety of natural home remedies available to reduce or eliminate the symptoms associated with feline asthma.
What causes feline asthma?
According to Bernhard Pukay, DVM, as reported by the Animal Health Foundation, “asthma occurs when an allergen incites airway inflammation, resulting in varying levels of respiratory distress, more commonly in cats than in dogs.” Dr. Richard Goldstein, DVM, associate professor of small animal medicine at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine , described asthma, in an article for the Cornell Feline Health Center, as “a constriction of the airways, or bronchi, the two narrow tubes that lead directly from the trachea to the lungs. The narrowing of the airways occurs when a cat’s immune system overreacts to the presence of an allergen and responds by releasing stimulants that cause inflammation and swelling of the sensitive tissue lining the bronchi and contraction of the surrounding muscle. This results in the narrowing of the airway and causes breathing difficulty (dyspnea), especially when exhaling.”
Common allergens and irritants that can trigger feline asthma
Your cat’s asthma may be aggravated by irritants that are found in his environment in your home and yard. Therefore, simply identifying the asthma attack triggers and then eliminating them can help treat your pet’s asthma surprisingly easily.
Common respiratory irritants include:
- artificial fragrances in the form of perfumes, colognes, air fresheners, incense, scented candles;
- certain aromatherapy and essential oils, specifically tea tree, peppermint, cinnamon bark, lemon and wintergreen oil, all of which can be toxic to cats. Compounds found within these essential oils can’t be metabolized by cats’ bodies as they are in human bodies, so the toxins end up building up in your pet’s body, potentially leading to a variety of health problems;
- chemicals found in conventional cleaning products;
- scented kitty litter;
- mold and mildew;
- dust mites;
- fireplace, cigarette and cigar smoke
All of these scent sources can be extremely irritating to the delicate feline respiratory system and stress, as with humans, can exacerbate the asthma symptoms caused by irritants and allergens.
What are the symptoms?
Dr. Goldstein described a feline asthma attack as follows: “The cat is at rest, not doing anything at all, or else it’s playing and suddenly stops. Its breathing becomes more rapid, and the cat starts trying to take in air with its mouth open. Its chest and abdomen move up and down abnormally, the breathing is shallow and rapid. And if you listen closely you may be able to detect a wheezing sound as the cat exhales.”
Common symptoms can include the following, in varying degrees of severity:
- Difficulty breathing, including coughing and wheezing;
- Sitting with hunched shoulders and extended neck while taking shallow and/or rapid gasps of air;
- Breathing with open mouth;
- Blue lips, nose and/or gums;
- Generalized weakness and/or lethargy
Dr. Goldstein classifies the severity of asthma attacks in the following four categories:
- Mild: The symptoms occur intermittently, but not daily, and they do not interfere with the cat’s lifestyle.
- Moderate: The symptoms do not occur daily, but when they do, they are more severe and debilitating, and they interfere with the cat’s activities.
- Severe: Significantly debilitating symptoms occur daily.
- Life-threatening: Bronchial constriction results in potentially lethal dyspnea and consequent oxygen deprivation, which causes normally pink tissues, such as the lips and nose, to turn blue.
How to figure out what is causing the asthma attacks and what to do about it
The first task is to try to figure out what is causing your feline fur baby to have the asthma attacks. Keep in mind that you may never figure out exactly what the cause is but, through a process of elimination, you may be able to narrow down the list of potential culprits. So, what you need to do is a room-by-room survey of your home to identify everything that may be creating any of the scents or allergens on our list above. Remove scented items, clean your A/C filters, replace scented kitty litter with unscented, replace toxic household cleaners with natural, non-toxic products, eliminate smoke, mold and mildew and see how your cat reacts. All of these steps will also, of course, benefit you and any other two- and four-legged members of your household!
In addition to removing potential irritants and allergens, you will want to reduce the environmental stressors for your cat. We know that our feline fur babies can easily become stressed in ever-changing environments or in a home where there is a lot of conflict and noise. Maintaining a stable, low-stress environment will benefit your cat and the human members of your family as well. The following actions can significantly reduce stress levels and lessen your cat’s asthma symptoms:
- Keep noise to a minimum.
- Ensure that any children in the house interact gently with your cat.
- Maintain a consistent routine and environment for your cat.
- Give him a safe haven somewhere in the house that he can retreat to and call his own where he will not be disturbed.
Natural treatment options
Now that you have properly diagnoses your cat’s asthma and taken steps to eliminate environmental triggers and stressors, it’s time to proactively treat the asthma symptoms and ease your cat’s suffering. In addition to any traditional treatment protocol suggested by your vet, you may want to incorporate one of more of the following options:
- Flower essences: Natural substances or extracts (not fragrances or essential oils) derived from flowering plants, are completely natural and generally safe for cats, and they do not cause any side effects. You can find a variety of options for treating everything from upper respiratory infections, to asthma and bronchitis. These natural remedies may help in terms of reducing stress levels, balancing the immune system, and allowing the body to heal itself. Talk to your vet about which flower essences are best for your particular cat, as well as how much you should administer and how often.
- Acupuncture: Yes, it is beneficial for cats and Onpets has all the information you need about it right here.
- Reiki: Can also benefit your feline fur baby by relaxing her.
- Homeopathic remedies: Consult with your vet, who will take your cat’s entire constitution into consideration when determining the right remedy and dosage. Homeopathic medications are typically administered in the form of tiny white pellets or as liquids. Some of the homeopathic remedies for asthma induced coughing include:
- Aconitum napellus: This can be a good remedy if your cat experiences a sudden severe dry cough and shortness of breath. This remedy should be used at the inception of the attack and should not be used for prolonged periods of time. It is used to treat acute conditions so that other longer term remedies can then be applied. Therefore, it is best to administer this remedy early on in the course of treatment with appropriate follow-up treatment.
- Belladonna: Cats who can benefit from Belladonna will sometimes show aggression, have dilated pupils, feel aggravated or feel anxious. There may be a dry, spasmodic cough that is accompanied by a fever and chills.
- Phosphorus: This homeopathic remedy is ideal for lung conditions, especially those that produce blood-tinged mucus. It may also work for animals who are bleeding from the nose or mouth. The cough is typically deep and dry, and will be worse if the air is cold, such as when leaving a warmer room to go into the cold outside. Pets may also tremble when they cough, may cough more when strangers are present and may be thirsty for cool water, hungry, chilly and easily startled.
- Herbs can be surprisingly powerful remedies as well. They come in a variety of forms, including dried and fresh, in capsules and in tinctures. Lobelia is an herbal remedy that can suppress asthma attacks. This herb is a respiratory stimulant, expectorant, anti-spasmodic and anti-asthmatic remedy.
When it comes to feline asthma, you can take a complete and complementary approach to your cat’s care by combining more traditional veterinary treatments with the many natural remedies that are also helpful at reducing the symptoms and occurrence of feline asthma.
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