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Cat Asthma: Vet Reviewed Signs, Life Expectancy, & Treatment

Written by: Christian Adams

Last Updated on April 12, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

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Cat Asthma: Vet Reviewed Signs, Life Expectancy, & Treatment


Dr. Lorna Whittemore Photo


Dr. Lorna Whittemore


The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Asthma isn’t just a human disease; it can affect our pets too. In fact, it affects between 1% and 5% of cats. It’s a chronic but treatable breathing condition that causes inflammation and reactive constriction of the airways.

While it’s not curable, there are ways to manage your cat’s signs. This guide will help you figure out if your cat might have asthma, how it’ll affect their life span, and how to prevent future attacks.

If your cat is currently experiencing breathing difficulties, phone your veterinary clinic straight away for advice.

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Causes of Cat Asthma

Cat asthma is known by several names, including feline lower airway disease, allergic airway disease, and acute allergic bronchitis. The consensus is that it is a result of your cat’s immune system causing an exaggerated immune response to inhaled allergens leading to a cascade of inflammation, allergic reaction, bronchial constriction, and excess mucus in the airways. The end result is difficulty breathing for your cat.

Anything can cause an allergic reaction and often the trigger for your cat’s asthma symptoms will not be known, but common allergens include:

  • Dust
  • Dusty or scented litter
  • Household cleaners
  • Mold and mildew
  • Pollen
  • Respiratory infections
  • Smoke from tobacco, a fireplace, or candles
  • Some foods
  • Spraying perfumes or aerosols
cat coughing
Photo Credit: Ihtar, Pixabay

Signs of Cat Asthma

An asthma episode can vary in severity from mild to life threatening. Depending on the severity of your cat’s attack, they can show all the symptoms or only one or two. Either way, it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for any of them in case you need to visit your veterinarian urgently.

Signs of cat asthma include:
  • Rapid breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Breathing with the mouth open
  • Crouching and extending their neck to breath
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty on the outbreath
  • Gums turning blue


What Does Cat Asthma Look Like?

Knowing what cat asthma looks like can help you decide whether a trip to your veterinarian is necessary. Any difficulty breathing warrants an urgent check up with your veterinarian.

There is no one symptom that tells you definitely that your cat has asthma, but a cough with wheezing sounds and difficulty breathing are often seen. Sometimes this is initially confused with coughing up a hairball as they can start out similarly.

You’ll also probably notice heavy or rapid breathing and they may breathe through their mouth, rather than their nose.

Pay attention to physical posture too. During an attack, your cat will lower their body to the ground and extend their neck. This is to take in as much air as possible. Depending on the severity of the attack, you may also see their gums turning pale or having a blue tinge.

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Photo Credit: Ada K, Pixabay

Life Expectancy of Cats With Asthma

Asthma is a serious disease and can be life threatening. Managing the symptoms effectively with the help of your veterinarian will help to reduce the frequency and severity of symptoms. You can extend their lifespan and ensure that they’re healthy by avoiding common triggers, recognizing attacks early, and being diligent with medications prescribed. Keeping your cat in generally good health by keeping up with their parasite control, maintaining a healthy weight, and managing any other health concerns are also important. Each pet is an individual and your vet will be able to discuss prognosis with you.

How Is Cat Asthma Diagnosed?

There isn’t an easy way to diagnose feline asthma because many conditions have similar symptoms and there is no one precise test for asthma. Your veterinarian will listen to your cat’s breathing, use chest X-rays, and collect samples to determine whether the symptoms are caused by asthma or another health condition.

Health conditions that mimic asthma symptoms include:
  • Heartworm
  • Lungworm
  • Respiratory infections

Your veterinarian will rule out other common causes of the symptoms before diagnosing asthma.

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How Do You Treat Cat Asthma?

There isn’t a cure for asthma, for either cats or humans. However, there are a few ways that you can help manage your cat’s symptoms. Bear in mind that these treatments may vary in effectiveness depending on your cat and the symptoms that they show. Your vet will talk through suitable options for you and your cat.


The first step in treating your cat’s asthma is getting a veterinarian’s diagnosis. They’ll be able to give you advice on how to help your cat and prescribe medications to manage the disease.

DIY pill pocket for cat
Photo Credit: Ovrs


Also known as “rescue medications,” bronchodilators are used during an asthma attack. There are three forms available: injected, oral, and inhaled. They’re designed to help your cat breathe by opening up the airways but don’t treat the inflammation caused by asthma.

If inhaled medications are advised then you may be asked to purchase an aerosol chamber or nebulizer.

Bronchodilators are usually paired with other medications, like corticosteroids, for the best results.


Like bronchodilators, corticosteroids are available as injections, tablets, or inhaled formulas. Where they differ is in their purpose. Corticosteroids work to reduce the inflammation and allergic reaction that causes the airways to constrict. They are more likely to be prescribed for daily ongoing use to keep symptoms at bay.

Prevent Attacks

While it won’t stop your cat’s asthma attacks entirely, you can help reduce the risk by avoiding common triggers. Smoking and spraying perfume or other aerosols are causes of flare-ups when it comes to asthma sufferers. This is true for both humans and felines.

Also pay attention to the type of litter that you choose for your cat. Try to find a low-dust option, preferably one that isn’t scented, so it doesn’t irritate your cat’s airways. It’s also a good idea to keep the rooms that your kitty frequents well-ventilated and a HEPA air filter may be a good investment.

Another preventative measure is ensuring that your cat has a healthy diet. This will help avoid conditions such as obesity that can make treating asthma more challenging. Make sure their food is nutritionally balanced and you’re feeding them enough for their activity level. Indoor cats that nap frequently won’t need as much food as energetic cats that never stop playing. Sometimes a vet may recommend special foods or foods higher in essential fatty acids to reduce inflammation.

Cat eating wet food from white bowl on wooden floor
Image Credit: IMG Stock Studio, Shutterstock

Reduce Stress

Stress can have many negative impacts on your cat’s health, and asthma is one of them. Cats enjoy routine, and a sudden change can throw them off their game. Moving to a new house, renovations, and even something as simple as hosting guests are all potential sources of stress.

Some cats handle changes better than others but particularly anxious cats might struggle to feel safe with everything going on around them. Try to keep their routine as stable as possible.

If changing things around is unavoidable, though, remember to reassure your cat. Using calm body language around them and keeping their favorite blanket, bed, or toys nearby will help keep them comfortable.

If your cat is not well and needs transporting to the vet, it should be done in as stress free a manner as possible, to avoid worsening breathing difficulties.  Train your cat to enjoy their cat basket when they are well so that when the time comes to get them to the vet there is less stress for everyone.

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Final Thoughts

Cat asthma can be caused by allergens such as dust, cigarette smoke, pollen, and even household cleaners. Fortunately, asthmatic cats can live well once their condition is diagnosed and a treatment plan is in place. You can also help avoid triggering asthma attacks by not smoking or using aerosols around your cat and keeping them otherwise in good health.

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Featured Image Credit: Jupiter_79, Pixabay

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