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My Cat Is Having an Asthma Attack, What Should I Do?

cat with asthma

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Dr. Nia Perkins

DVM (Vet)

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Anywhere between 1%–5%1 of cats have asthma, and most get diagnosed between 4–5 years of age. If your kitty is one of the unlucky few who have asthma, you’re probably wondering what you should do if they start having an attack. You don’t want to be caught in the midst of an emergency unprepared, so it’s best to take the time to educate yourself well beforehand. Asthma attacks can sometimes be treated at home with the right medication, but you might need to take your cat to the vet to receive oxygen if the attack is bad enough.

Keep reading to learn everything you’ve ever wanted to know about feline asthma.

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What Are the Common Symptoms of Asthma?

If you’re not entirely sure if your cat has asthma, visiting your vet is the best way to find out. While you wait for your next appointment, though, you can learn about some of the tell-tale signs of feline asthma below.

Heavy and rapid breathing is one of the most common signs of asthma. Healthy, non-asthmatic cats will breathe around 25 to 30 times per minute. If your kitty is taking more than 40 breaths in a minute while at rest, he may have asthma. This should warrant a visit to the nearest emergency vet if this breathing rate is unusual in your pet. Cats with this condition will often breathe through their mouths or start panting.

Fatigue is another common sign of asthma. Does your kitty breathe heavier than usual after they’ve finished playing?

What Are More Common Symptoms of Asthma?

tired sick cat
Image Credit: natata, Shutterstock

Your cat might position himself in such a way that his neck is extended upwards, and his body is low to the ground. This is his attempt to get as much air into his lungs as possible.

When oxygen isn’t able to reach the lungs, your cat’s red blood cells won’t be transporting oxygen to the rest of the body. This will often result in blue lips and gums.

Wheezing is one of the most common signs of an asthma attack in humans, and it’s no different for felines. Your kitty might begin wheezing if they’re having a hard time breathing. The wheeze will sound like a whistling or rattling sound. When your cat begins making this noise, it’s a sign that his passageways are swollen.

Your cat may also start making a coughing or hacking sound as if they’re trying to pass a hairball.

It’s important to note that your kitty doesn’t have to be displaying all of these signs to be having an asthma attack. Any of these symptoms are a cause for concern and worth a visit to the vet. If your pet is to the point where his tongue or gums start turning blue, he is not receiving the oxygen he needs to survive. This is a medical emergency, and you will need to get to a veterinary hospital as soon as possible.

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What Triggers Feline Asthma?

nebelung cat sitting outside on grass
Image Credit: Therese Elaine, Shutterstock

Just as with humans, certain triggers in your cat’s environment can cause an attack. Familiarizing yourself with potential triggers in your home can help reduce how many attacks your kitty has and how often.

Some of the most common triggers include:
  • Grass
  • Dust mites
  • Cat litter dust
  • Pollen
  • Cleaning products
  • Smoke (from cigarettes, fireplaces, candles)
  • Mold
  • Insects
  • Hairspray
  • Scented laundry detergent
  • Certain foods

What Should I Do When My Cat Starts Having an Attack?

Now that you know what to be on the lookout for, you need to learn what you should do as a pet owner in the event of an asthma attack.

1. Remain Calm

First things first: remain as calm as possible. Your cat may become more agitated and stressed if they pick up on your stress and panic.


2. Administer Medication

Once your veterinarian diagnoses your cat with feline asthma, they may prescribe medications like a bronchodilator. A bronchodilator works by expanding the constricted airways and is a godsend in asthma attack situations. This medication doesn’t treat the underlying inflammation that causes the attack, so a bronchodilator is strictly for use as a rescue medication.

Your vet might also prescribe a corticosteroid. This is the most commonly prescribed medication used for feline asthma. It works by reducing inflammation in your cat’s airways and comes in several forms, such as oral, inhaled, and injectable.


3. Take Your Pet Somewhere Cool

Once you have administered the medication, move your kitty to a cool and well-ventilated area. If it was an environmental trigger that caused the attack, moving him to a different area of your home will take him away from the trigger.


4. Know When to Go to the Vet

It’s important to be ready to go to the vet at the drop of a hat if your cat has asthma. If you notice their lips or gums are turning blue, they’re not getting the amount of oxygen they need and need to be taken to a vet ASAP.

Turn on the air conditioning in your car if it’s hot outside and call your vet when you’re on the way. When they know that you’re coming, they can be ready with oxygen to administer as soon as you pull up.

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How Can I Avoid Asthma Attacks in the Future?

Orange cat's ear being checked by vet
Image Credit: YULIYA Shustik, Shutterstock

Feline asthma is incurable but it can be managed so attacks are fewer and far between. Here are some tips on how to reduce how many asthma attacks your cat gets.

1. Have Medication on Hand

Medicine will be your cat’s best friend if they start having asthma attacks. You’ll need to have a talk with your vet about what medications you should have on hand in case of future attacks. As mentioned above, your vet will likely prescribe a bronchodilator or a corticosteroid.


2. Know Their Triggers

You will want to try your best to avoid known triggers. All asthma attacks start with an allergic reaction, so if you can determine what allergen is causing your cat to react, you can reduce how many attacks he gets. You may need to switch up your lifestyle a bit for the sake of your cat’s health, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.

happy cat
Image Credit: islam zarat, Shutterstock

3. Keep Them Healthy

Cats that are overweight aren’t just at risk for diabetes or liver disease. Obese kitties have additional stress on their heart and lungs and also have more inflammation throughout their bodies than cats at a healthier weight. This inflammation can make your kitty’s asthma worse.

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Final Thoughts

Feline asthma can be a scary condition for both you and your kitty. While it’s an incurable and, oftentimes, progressive condition, you can learn to manage it with a little extra care and medication.


Featured Image Credit: RozochkaIvn, Shutterstock

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