Feline Asthma>

Helping Cats and Kittens with Asthma, Breathing and Lung Problems
Feline Asthma is a disease that causes wheezing and severe coughing in cats. It mostly affects cats and kittens between 1 and 8 years of age and is caused by environmental factors, lungwormor heartworm parasites or other unknown causes.

Does My Cat Have Feline Asthma

Dear Simba,
I have recently adopted a Simaese-cross kitten. Every few days I catch him wheezing. He wheezes for a minute or so usually when he is inactive. My friend who owns several cats said it was nothing to worry about. However, my other cat is 5 and never wheezes. Something might be up. What does this all mean? - Sophie

Dear Sophie,
Wheezing is not usually a good thing. You often find cats out of breath after heavy exercise. That is normal. However, wheezing when inactive is usually indicative of asthma and / or Cardiomyiopathy.

I imagine that it must be heart wrenching to watch kitty struggle to breathe. Asthma is a disease that causes wheezing and coughing. It affects young and middle aged cats (most common in cats between 1 and 8 years of age). Female cats are twice as likely to have asthma, as are male cats (Siamese and Himalayan get it more frequently then other breeds).

Asthma can occur any time of the year, although less than 1% of all cats will ever develop feline asthma. Allergens are the prime suspect in the cause of feline asthma.


Symptoms vary widely in severity and range from an occasional episode of coughing and wheezing to chronic and persistent

  • Coughing and Wheezing
  • Persistent coughing
  • Coughing with head stretched forward
  • Gagging with a foamy mucus
  • Breathing with an Open mouth
  • Blue-hued lips and/or gums
  • Easily out of breath
  • Overall weakness and lethargy


There appear to be several factors involved in the development of feline asthma:

  • Cats with feline asthma have chronic inflammation of the tissues that line the bronchial walls in the lungs. The tissues may hyper-react to certain allergens, viruses, parasites (e.g., heartworm, lungworm) and / or infections. This hyper-reaction causes inflammation and an increase in mucous secretion that then leads to a decrease in the size of the airways which then causes symptoms to worsen.
  • Problem allergens include smoke, insect and hair sprays, dust (flea powders, litter, carpet fresheners) feather pillows, perfumes, and Christmas trees. Ragweed pollen may cause attacks.
  • Some cats may have asthma attacks in response to food allergies, particularly fish based foods that may be higher in natural histamines. Bacterial infections, mycoplasma and viruses may also contribute to attacks of feline asthma.


Feline asthma is diagnosed through symptoms, chest x-rays, and response to treatment.

  • Chest x-rays show inflammation of the bronchioles in the lungs. Improvement of the symptoms wiith steroids usually confirms diagnosis if the symptoms and x-rays are consistent with feline asthma.
  • Because other health problems can cause similar symptoms, tests are need to ensure the proper treatment. These are comprised of blood counts and chemistry profile in addition to a heartworm check, among others.


  • Corticosteroid is the most popular treatment of feline asthma. Most cats are put on an every other day oral dose. The treatment lasts for the remainder of their lives.
  • Cats with less severe cases of asthma may only need treatment during flair ups. Injections can be used in cats that are difficult to pill. Because there is a possibility of long-term side effects, the goal is to give only the minimum effective dose. In addition to steroids, some veterinarians use terbutaline to aid in bronchodilatation.
  • Another common drug is Cyproheptadine (Periactin), an antihistamine that blocks serotonin and smooth muscle contraction in the bronchioles.
Your best bet is to have your vet check out your kitty, so he can begin the proper treatment. Keep me posted. Simba

Hello Simba,
My kitten, Arizona, pants like a dog. I am going to take Ari to the vet soon, but I am kinda concerned now. Arizona pants when we exercise him. I run around with this mouse on a cord type toy and after 5 minutes he is out of breath. Is he out of shape? We have a dog he has been playing with since he was young. Could this be a sign of Asthma? Sometimes it scares me because he looks terrible, his tongue hangs out and he looks like a dog does. Have you ever heard of this? I cannot find it anywhere on the internet.

FYI, Arizona was a stray. We found him as a kitten on our cross-country move to CA, in where else but Arizona! This was during the summer and our ride broke down in the Mojave. that is the first time I ever saw Ari pant like this. It was extremely hot that day (~104 degrees). I had my friend rush him to an air-conditioned store about 20 miles away while I stayed with the broken down Uhaul. Could that have hurt his lungs? Dave

Dear Dave,
You can check if your kitten is out of shape by clicking on the following Body Guide. However, I worry that your little guy may be experiencing feline asthma. This is a common condition amongst cats and can include sudden onsets of respiratory distress. Asthma responds well to corticosteroids and bronchodilators. While Arizona may still have occasional "episodes" the long-term prognosis for asthma are pretty good.

Another thing you may want to watch for is heartworm. Cats can develop respiratory problems as they combat the growth of these worms. The same may go for lungworm. Have your vet keep an eye out for lungworm too. As for the heat impacting his lungs, it is possible, but keep in mind that there are a lot of variables at play here. Keep me posted. Simba

Dave writes: Thanks for your response. I am going to ask my vet about asthma and about the worms. I checked your Bodyguide chart and my fiancee and I laughed... Ari looks like the cat in "overweight" but he is a kitten.... we have reduced his food intake since he is getting older... and we exercise him now. I will keep you posted. Dave

Cat Coughing, A Reader Story

Dear Simba,
My cat has been suffering from some kind of attacks. At first I thought she had hair balls although she had never gotten them in the past. When she has an attack she is not really wheezing or breathing hard, instead it appears as though she is trying to hack something up. Sometimes her whole little body suffers through convulsions. Her attacks last for about 30 seconds to 1 minute and sometimes she has them 3-4 times a day.

We tried treating for hair balls but that did not seem to work. I also tried changing her food. Again, it did not work. The vet suggested asthma and put her on a steroid. These seemed work at first but her condition later worsened. I do not really want to have to force steroids down her throat every day either.

Tazza is an indoor/outdoor cat and now that it is summer spends a lot of time outdoors - we live on a 5-acre lot. I still notice her having an attack once in a while but it is not as easy to observe her now that she plays outdoors most of the day. When she is not having an attack she seems completely normal and full of energy. She catches lots of mice.

Do you have any suggestions or thoughts on what might be troubling my kitty? If it is asthma is there anyway to treat her without using steroids? The vet I go to has only every done a physical exam. Should I ask for x-rays or something else? Melanie (and Tazza)

Dear Melanie (and Tazza),
Coughing is usually caused by lower respiratory tract problems. These can be caused by anything from irritation and inflammation caused by foreign materials to heartworm, lungworm, tumors and other causes.

Many times, the coughing is due to common problems such as the Sneezing Kittens / Watery Eyes, or it could instead be due to a chronic condition like bronchitis or other viral, bacterial or parasitic worm infections. Pneumonia is another possible cause. Bacterial infections require only a course of antibiotics. The removal of a piece of foreign material, or the correct drug treatment for lungworm or heartworm, can also cure or diminish symptoms.

If the coughing becomes chronic, the possibility of brining about a total cure diminishes. The reason is that chronic coughing is associated with chronic inflammation, which causes changes in the airway's structure. This means that even if the initial cause is treated the lungs have already been damaged and cannot return to normal form. When this happens, any treatment is aimed at controlling symptoms and preventing further damage. These treatments may include the removal of irritants, allergens or the giving of drugs or treating of bacterial infections, as well as the administration of corticosteroids or decongestants to reduce inflammation.

While less common than the other possible causes, tumors (cancer) located in the chest can cause coughing. Your vet should be able to detect these and recommend an appropriate treatment plan should this be the cause. Kennel cough (bordetella bronchiseptica) can cause coughing as well, but is much less common in house with 2 to 3 cats, as it is usually restricted to shelters, catteries and other places with a high density of cats. Some cat litter can cause irritation and may incite asthma attacks. It is usually best to use a a litter that produces little or no dust to prevent this. I hope this is of help to you. Simba

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