Asthma as it relates to its similarity to human asthma in veterinary medicine is generally unique to cats. Inflammatory lower airway disease in dogs presents more as an ever present chronic disease known as Chronic Allergic Bronchitis.
Clinical signs of asthma in cats usually begins with coughing and wheezing. In advanced cases of feline asthma, this can quickly progress to labored breathing, asphyxiation and death. Thus, this is absolutely not a disease to be taken lightly.
Additional signs of asthma in cats include panting (never normal in cats), gagging, blue tongue and gums, rapid breathing, squatting with hunched shoulders and neck extended.
Asthma in cats is caused by allergic stimulation of the lower airways that leads to thickening of the walls of the airways, secretion of mucus, and spasmodic constriction of the smooth muscle that surrounds the airways that actually narrows them. This subsequent “bronchconstriction” can make a cat affected by asthma feel like it is breathing from a straw. Allergic stimulation can come from parasitic infestation (more on this below), inhaled allergens such as pollen, aerosolized molds, second hand smoke, and other airborne pollutants. Other known factors that can trigger or aggravate asthmatic cats include obesity, heart conditions, and stress.
The onset of asthma generally occurs in cats between 1 and 8 years of age. Siamese and Himalayan cats seem to have a higher incidence of asthma than other cat breeds or domestic mixes.
If your cat is showing signs of asthma, I strongly suggest you get off the computer and get him/her to a veterinarian immediately! Do not mess around with asthma, as the disease can progress into a life threatening crisis very quickly. The holistic measures I will be outlining to help with long term management of disease do not apply to an imminent or active feline asthma crisis.
Diagnosis of asthma begins with the veterinarian hearing hallmark coarse, harsh sounds via stethoscope called increased bronchovescicular lung sounds. Diagnosis is confirmed by seeing an inflammatory lung pattern on x-rays known as a bronchiolar pattern.
While cats are not the definitive host of heartworm disease, cats can become infected with heartworms that do not progress beyond a juvenile stage of development. Although the worms cannot reach adulthood or reproduce in cats, migration of the heartworm larvae in the heart and lungs can lead to feline asthma. As such, I always test new cases of feline asthma for heartworm disease.
Treatment for an active asthma crisis generally begins with a fast acting cortisone injection, followed by a tapering course of oral prednisone or a long acting cortisone injection called Depomedrol that will gradually taper out of the patient over the course of 2 weeks. Some patients are dependent on either periodic Depomedrol injections or some level of daily prednisone dosing.
In order to facilitate minimizing the necessity for long term medications, after stabilizing the patient, I generally recommend the following holistic techniques for long term management of asthma in cats:
1.) Clean Air
I strongly recommend keeping the air in the home of an asthmatic cat as clean and pure as possible. UV lights in air conditioning and heating systems help to cut down on mold. Filters changed regularly help to minimize dust and other allergens. Ionic air filters are very helpful in also minimizing airborne allergens and pollutants. Obviously, smoking in the home is a very bad idea for households with asthmatic cats.
2.) Treat the Home For Dust Mites
Even the cleanest of homes has microscopic insects called dust mites. It is not a pleasant thought, but homes are teaming with dust mites that can trigger both respiratory and other allergic disease.
There are many companies that can effectively treat homes for dust mites organically with no potential harm to the animal and human occupants
3.) Omega-3-Fatty Acids
Omega-3-fatty acids are nature’s anti-inflammatory. They help to maintain and repair cell membranes, while blocking inflammatory biochemical pathways in the body.
The most effective and bioavailable omega-3 is that derived from fish oils. Be careful with the product you choose, as rancid oils not only lack omega-3, but have potentially PRO-inflammatory omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids. Your veterinarian is the best source for product recommendation.
4.) Hypoallergenic Food
Food allergies can lead to all manner of allergic conditions, including allergic respiratory conditions like feline asthma. Food allergies arise from sensitization to large dietary proteins, most commonly animal source proteins and occasionally from certain grains.
My preference for hypoallergenic diet is a hydrolyzed protein diet, meaning that the proteins within the food are cut into smaller, less reactive segments called peptides. The most effective of these diets in my experience is Royal Canin Ultamino, as this diet cuts proteins down into even smaller individual molecular units called amino acids.
5.) Minimize Stress
Cats are stress driven creatures, meaning that they have a hair trigger fight or flight response. This is an evolutionary adaptation that allows them to survive in the wild in solitude without a pack or herd to support them. This trait can be so strong in cats that it negatively impacts their health.
Try to keep a consistent routine for your cat. Feed at the same times each day, scoop out the litter box daily, try not to change the furniture around often, and try to keep a calm household.
For high stress cats, you can try pheromone therapy with a product called Feliway that applies a calming feline pheromone by spray or plug in air diffuser.
6.) Stem Cell Therapy
Stem cells are pregenitor cells that can differentiate into any tissue line and are an integral component to the body’s intrinsic ability to repair and regenerate itself. Puppies, kittens, and children have an abundance of rich and active stem cells. Stem cells decrease in number and become less active with age which accounts for the body being more prone to injury and illness with age, and slower healing times with age.
Through cutting edge technology, stem cells can be harvested via a simple blood draw where they are isolated, amplified, and then injected intravenously back into the patient. Once injected, the stem cells will go on a “seek and repair” mission to help regenerate and repair compromised tissues. Results commonly last for one year plus.
Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms. In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport. He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.