Have you noticed that your cat is wheezing when he or she breathes? This symptom is not uncommon in cats, but it is not one you should ignore. Consider the following possible causes of wheezing and how to treat them.
Asthma is a chronic inflammation of the lungs and respiratory passages; the swelling makes it hard for your cat to breathe. Some cats develop asthma in response to an allergen, such as a chemical cleaner, cigarette smoke, or mold spores. Other times, asthma develops because of another underlying disease or parasitic infection.
If your cat is displaying some or all of these other symptoms, then asthma is likely to blame for the wheezing.
- Labored breathing after exercise
- A persistent, dry-sounding cough
- Coughing up clear, foamy mucous
- Breathing with the mouth open
- Blueness around the lips and gums
If you think your cat may have asthma, it is important to make an appointment with your vet. Treatment will include dealing with any condition that your vet thinks may be contributing to the asthma. For instance, if your cat is allergic to mold, removing any mold from the home is important for alleviating the asthma symptoms. Your vet will also likely prescribe a inhaled medication to open your cat's airways and make breathing easier while the underlying cause is addressed. Using low-dust kitty litter, avoiding the use of room fresheners, and keeping your cat at a healthy weight are also recommended for the treatment of asthma.
Upper Respiratory Infections
Sometimes, wheezing in cats is not caused by asthma, but by a viral infection such as feline calicivirus or feline herpes. If your cat has recently been in contact with other cats -- especially in a shelter or kennel-type setting -- then there's a good chance one of these infections is to blame for his or her wheezing symptoms. Other symptoms that indicate you may be dealing with an upper respiratory infection include:
- A runny nose
- Red, runny, or itchy eyes
- Depression and lethargy (your cat may seem like he or she has no energy)
- Loss of appetite
If your cat appears lethargic or is coughing heavily, take him or her to an emergency vet, as dehydration is likely and must be treated promptly. Otherwise, as long as your cat does not appear overly uncomfortable, you can call and speak to your regular vet. He or she will likely want to see your cat within several days.
Your vet can quite easily determine whether an upper respiratory infection is to blame for your cat's symptoms by way of a physical exam. Viral infections cannot be treated with antibiotics, so if your cat is diagnosed with this condition, your vet will use supportive therapies to help alleviate symptoms while your cat's body fights off the infection. These therapies include providing plenty of fluids, nutritional foods, and rest. Medications to clear the cat's airways may be administered. While your cat is recovering, you should also:
- Keep him or her indoors to reduce spread of the virus to other animals
- Watch any other cats you own for symptoms, and keep them isolated in a room separate from the sick cat, if possible.
- Ensuring your cat's environment is as comfortable as possible in order to minimize stress. (Do not make any sudden changes to your cat's living arrangements while he or she is ill.)
If your cat is wheezing, it's important to seek treatment, as either asthma or an upper respiratory infection is likely to blame. While these conditions are unpleasant to cats, the good news is that with the proper management, your cat should recover and be back to his or her perky, happy self within a week or two.
Contact a local vet for additional information.