Asthma in Pets

It may come as a surprise, but our pets can be just as likely to develop asthma as  humans, although the condition affects cats more often than dogs. Asthma is a condition that develops as a result of chronic inflammation in the small bronchioles in your pet’s lungs. These passageways become thickened, mucous can accumulate in the bronchioles, and it can make it difficult for your pet to breathe.

Symptoms of Asthma in Pets

Any pet can develop asthma at any age, but the condition most commonly affects cats beginning sometime between the ages of 2 and 6 years. The primary sign of asthma in any animal is coughing. In cats, this symptom is often overlooked and brushed off as a failed attempt to cough up a hairball because the sound of the cough and the posture your cat gets himself into (neck outstretched and head held low and parallel to the floor) is very similar. While some pets are mildly affected and show no other early symptoms or warning signs aside from occasional coughing fits, others will wheeze when breathing. 

Diagnosing Asthma in Pets

Asthma is often suspected by your veterinarian for a number of reasons, starting with your report of symptoms noticed at home. On physical exam, your veterinarian may hear increased breath sounds or crackling or whistling noises from your pet’s lungs. These symptoms alone, however, are not enough to confirm a diagnosis of asthma

A chest x-ray is needed to diagnose asthma in any pet, and additional testing may also be required. An x-ray will not only show certain patterns that indicate asthma, such as over-inflated lungs and clear areas (often referred to as “doughnuts”) that indicate that air is trapped in the lungs, but will help your vet rule out other possible causes of your pet’s symptoms, like heart disease. The x-ray also often shows a thickened lining of the lungs.

What Causes Asthma Attacks in Pets

Just as in humans, asthma attacks are triggered by a number of things, but the most common causes are allergens in your pet’s environment or physical or emotional stress. It can be very difficult to determine the exact allergens that are triggering your pet’s attacks, but anything from molds and pollens to smoke to perfumes and aerosol sprays can irritate the passageways in your pet’s lungs. In fact, asthma is on the rise in pets, likely because of the increased pollution in our environment.

Treating Asthma in Pets

Treating asthma successfully will require a multi-step approach. Pets will often require medication to control frequency of attacks, environmental changes, or even quick-acting inhalers. Your veterinarian will provide guidance on the appropriate medical treatment for your particular pet.

It should be noted that although it can be difficult to find the exact triggers of your pet’s asthma, making careful observations about your pet’s environment can certainly provide clues and can make a huge difference in your pet’s quality of life and wellbeing. Eliminate as much of any irritants, like scented candles, heavy use of chemical cleaning supplies, scented or dusty litter for cats, and apply cologne and perfume or use aerosol sprays like hairspray in a closed-off, well-ventilated area. Use hypoallergenic or all natural detergents, vaccuum and dust your home frequently, only allow cigarette or cigar smoking outside, and try to ventilate your kitchen well when cooking.

While environmental changes alone cannot replace medication in many cases, the frequency and severity of your pet’s asthma attacks can be greatly reduced, as can the frequency and dosage of medications in some cases.


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