Signs Your Pet May Have Asthma

By Dr. Sonia Sandhu, Veterinarian

Many people consider asthma to be a problem seen primarily in people, however it can often times affect dogs and cats as well. Asthma in our pets can present as similar symptoms as people, which include wheezing, difficulty breathing, and coughing. Similar to people, the underlying cause can be an allergen, causing constriction and spasms of the smooth muscle of the airways. This leads to irritation and inflammation of the airways. 

Asthma is more prevalent in cats, in comparison to dogs. Brachycephalic breeds are at a greater risk for asthma (i.e. Siamese cats, Persian cats, Bulldogs, Pugs.)

While there are many triggers for asthma in pets, many include inhaled particles such as pollen, smoke, household cleaning products, grasses, fertilizers and pesticides, Chemical inhalation, Cigarette, passive smoke, Dust, house dust mites, house molds, and many others.

If your pet has signs of asthma including an increased effort when breathing, or taking short shallow breaths – this requires immediate medical intervention. In cats affected by asthma, symptoms are not often a measure of how severe the condition is, as some pets can have severe disease with minimal overt symptoms.

Your veterinarian may use diagnostics including chest radiographs, a transtracheal wash for obtaining cells from the lower airways. Bronchoscopy can also be performed for visualizing the airways with a camera for tissue biopsy, bloodwork, and clinicopathologic evidence of airway inflammation, in addition to the history provided.

Treatment of Asthma includes reversing the respiratory crisis, which may include oxygen supplementation and use of several medications to help reduce the inflammation caused by the allergic reaction. Although, asthma is preventable, and can be controlled, it is seldom cured. In some cases, environmental triggers are not identifiable. In cats, changing kitty litter to newspaper of low dust litter formulations can be greatly effective. 

Prevention of Asthma includes:

  1. Eliminating scented plug-ins, incense, and scented candles.
  2. Avoid smoking as inhaling second hand smoke often causes severe irritation to the airways.
  3. Switch from household products with chemicals to more natural or green products.
  4. Avoid using a wood fireplace.
  5. Switch to a low-dust litter.
  6. Using an air-purifier has shown to have improvements.

It is important to have your pet assessed by a veterinarian as soon as possible especially if you notice your pet having an increased effort when breathing, fast shallow breathing, using abdominal muscles to breathe, or open mouth breathing – as these are symptoms which require immediate medical attention. 


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