What are Options for Treating Feline Asthma?
photo 2008 Bill S | more info (via: Wylio)
My eight-year-old Siamese cat has developed a bit of asthma. It's gotten worse since we moved to a new apartment near the freeway, which gets a lot more dust. Could it really be the new, dustier place, or is it more likely that her asthma is getting worse with age? Also, she was prescribed steroids, but they seem like a pretty harsh treatment for her occasional coughing fits. Is a conservative approach of an air purifier and maybe moving away from the freeway a better option?
San Francisco, CA
Feline asthma (also called feline bronchitis) is an allergically mediated respiratory disease that is similar to human asthma. Cats suffering from the syndrome experience constriction and irritation of the air passages in the lungs. This can cause intermittent coughing in mild cases. Severe cases can lead to respiratory crises that can be fatal.
By far the best way to deal with asthma, if possible, is to remove and eliminate allergens and triggers from the environment. Some simple steps to consider: do not smoke in the house, buy an air purifier, move away from a dusty freeway (if you're willing to take such a step), use a hypoallergenic laundry detergent, and use a high quality flea preventative. Obesity also exacerbates asthma, so managing your cat's weight is a good idea too.
If environmental control isn't sufficient, then medications may be necessary. Bronchodilators (such as theophylline, aminophylline and terbutaline) can be given orally, but these medications can cause agitation and other side effects (including serious ones such as heart palpitations). Steroids such as prednisone are effective in most cases, but they are strong medicines with lots of potential side effects. Some vets prescribe antihistamines for asthma. Antihistamine use has not been shown to be effective in the syndrome--I therefore recommend avoiding this class of drugs.
The most promising treatment for feline asthma involves inhalation therapy. In particular, the human medicine Flovent (used for human asthma) can be used in cats. Your vet can help you procure a special spacer that connects to the Flovent puffer and adapts it for use in cats. Most cats tolerate Flovent very well after they have been habituated to the process of administering the medicine, and Flovent appears to control most cases of asthma with minimal side effects -- often with just a puff or two each week.
I generally recommend use of Flovent over use of oral steroids. But I recommend environmental control (no smoking, air purifiers, etc) before use of Flovent.
Photo: not a Flovent puffer, but close enough to get the idea across.