Signs and Symptoms of Asthma in Dogs and Cats

Asthma is a chronic lower respiratory condition that affects not only humans but also dogs and cats. Understanding the signs, causes, and treatments for asthma in animals can help pet parents provide the best care possible.

Causes and Triggers

An allergic reaction to inhaled environmental irritants is often the cause of asthma in dogs and cats. Once inside the lower airways, these allergens can interact with the immune system, causing inflammation, airway constriction, and difficulty breathing. Common allergens and triggers include:

  • Pollen
  • Dust mites
  • Mold spores
  • Smoke
  • Strong chemicals
  • Perfumes or fragrances
  • Dusty cat litter
  • Cleaning products

In some cases, stress or anxiety can exacerbate asthma symptoms.

Clinical Signs

Cats are more prone to asthma than dogs, with 1 to 5% of cats diagnosed with the condition. Asthma in dogs is less common but can still occur. The signs of asthma in dogs and cats can vary depending on the animal, the severity of the inflammation, and the severity of each episode, but signs include:

  • Diminished activity level/loss of energy
  • Elevated resting respiratory rate
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing/persistent cough
  • Hacking or even vomiting (which can be mistaken for hacking up a hairball)
  • Open-mouthed breathing in cats
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Loss of appetite
  • Heavy, wide-mouth panting in dogs, especially when at rest and at a comfortable temperature

Cats don’t normally pant, so a cat breathing with their mouth open needs to be assessed by a veterinarian.

In dogs, cyanotic gums that are blue due to lack of oxygen is another sign. This is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention from a veterinarian.

Diagnosing Asthma in Dogs and Cats

There is no single test for asthma in companion animals. The first step toward a diagnosis is giving your veterinarian a thorough medical history and allowing them to perform a physical examination. The vet will rule out other potential causes of respiratory distress, such as heart disease, viral or bacterial infections, parasites, and airway malformation. They may recommend diagnostic tests like heartworm testing, blood counts, X-rays, and bronchoscopy (passing a scope into the bronchi) to get a clearer picture and look closely at the cells of the lower airway.

Treatments

Conventional treatments for asthma in dogs and cats include corticosteroids to reduce inflammation, with or without bronchodilators to open the airways. These medications can be administered orally, by injection, or inhaled.

Other medications that may benefit asthmatic pets include leukotriene modifiers that block the effects of certain chemicals that narrow the airways, antihistamines, and antibiotics when a secondary bacterial infection is present.

Additional treatments that may augment the conventional care of a dog or cat with asthma include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Eliminating foods that trigger allergic reactions
  • Removing triggers from the environment
  • Stress reduction measures
  • Regular light exercise to maintain optimal weight and body condition
  • Allergy shots or immunotherapy

Conclusion

Asthma attacks can be mild or severe and even life threatening. And while not curable, asthma in dogs and cats can be manageable. Recognizing the signs can lead to timely intervention, improving your dog’s or cat’s outcome significantly. Always consult with your veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis, tailored treatment protocols, and a plan of action for when an episode occurs.

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