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Feline Asthma: Signs & Symptoms (Vet Answer)

Asthma is a lung illness that makes it more difficult to breathe. It is believed that cats get asthma when their immune systems respond to allergens in the air. Pollen, mildew, dust, smoking, and scented home goods can all be allergens.

This aberrant immune response causes two major pulmonary changes:

  • Constriction (narrowing) of the airways
  • Increased production of mucus

Imagine airways as tubes to visualize how these changes make it more difficult for air to flow (i.e., breathing becomes more challenging).

Continue reading "Feline Asthma: Signs & Symptoms (Vet Answer)" by BestForPets (bestforpets.org) to learn more about some typical signs and symptoms.

Asthma in Cats

The degree to which the airflow is lowered influences how severely the cat’s breathing is impaired and, consequently, the symptoms we observe.

Some cats may endure only a slight chronic cough, while others may suffer from serious respiratory distress. The onset of symptoms might be rapid (e.g., an asthma attack) or gradual over time.

Feline Asthma: 6 Signs and Symptoms

1. Difficulty in respiration (dyspnea)

When very little air is passing through the lungs and the cat is not receiving enough oxygen, a severe asthma attack ensues. Affected cats exhibit the following indications of respiratory distress (difficulty breathing):

  • Breathing with their mouths wide open
  • Holding their head and neck in an extended position
  • chest and/or abdominal heaving with each breath
  • Blue or purple hues on the gums, lips, and/or tongue
  • Foam or froth emanating from the mouth.

A cat with respiratory difficulties is a veterinarian emergency!

The veterinarian will administer oxygen and supportive treatment, inquire about your cat’s medical history, do a thorough physical examination, and conduct a series of tests to identify whether the dyspnea is caused by asthma or another medical disease.

2. Noisy breathing

You would likely need to pay great attention to hear a regular cat breathing normally. If you can readily hear your cat’s breathing, and especially if you hear a wheezing sound when they exhale, this might be an indication of asthma. The odd sound is the result of air being compressed via constricted airways.

Any change in the sound of a cat’s breathing should trigger a trip to the veterinarian, especially when accompanied with other symptoms on this list.

3. Fast respiration (tachypnea)

Cats with asthma are unable to take complete, deep breaths, therefore they breathe fast. You may determine your cat’s respiration rate at home by counting the number of chest rises and falls each minute (one rise plus one fall equals one breath). Ensure that they are not purring!

If a cat is sitting, lying calmly, or sleeping while taking more than 40 breaths per minute, immediate veterinarian assistance is required.

Breathing rates lower than this might still be cause for worry if accompanied by other respiratory symptoms, especially signs of distress.

It is useful to get an understanding of your cat’s usual resting breathing rate because every cat is unique. Your veterinarian may be able to detect asthma (or another medical disease) in its earliest stages if you monitor your pet’s respiratory rate on a regular basis.

4. Coughing or hacking

Asthmatic cats cough in reaction to inflammation and airway alterations produced by inhaled allergens. Cats with asthma may cough in an effort to remove the mucus that can build up in their airways.

The cat appears to be attempting to cough up a hairball, but nothing comes up.

Coughing in a cat increases the suspicion of asthma, but a veterinarian should always check to rule out alternative reasons.

5. Lethargy (tiredness) 

Asthmatic cats may have difficulty maintaining adequate oxygen levels in their blood because they cannot carry air properly through their lungs. The combination of difficulty breathing and low oxygen levels causes individuals to feel exhausted.

Affected cats may hide, appear less active, and have difficulty performing their typical behaviors (e.g., running, jumping, climbing).

Lethargy is related with a wide range of medical disorders and does not explicitly indicate asthma. It will be interpreted in conjunction with the cat’s other symptoms, physical examination, and diagnostic test findings.

6. Vomiting

This may seem counterintuitive, but violent coughing and the exertion involved with difficult breathing can occasionally cause vomiting. This is a challenging symptom, as cats might vomit for a variety of causes. Vomiting alone is not sufficient to diagnose feline asthma, but it can be regarded an extra indicator if a cat also displays other symptoms from this list.

As with lethargy, vomiting must be evaluated in light of the total clinical picture of the cat.


If you own a cat, it is beneficial to be familiar with the signs and symptoms of feline asthma. However, a veterinary evaluation and testing (such as chest x-rays) are required to confirm the diagnosis.

Although asthma cannot be cured, it is typically efficiently treated, allowing afflicted cats to still enjoy a high quality of life.

  • Typically, treatment entails avoiding or decreasing exposure to probable allergens, such as cigarette smoke, highly scented home goods, and cat litter.
  • Corticosteroids and/or bronchodilators, which may be administered orally or breathed using a specific mask made for cats (e.g., AeroKat)

Consider noting down the symptoms you see at home if you suspect your cat may suffer from asthma (including how frequently they occur and how severe they are). You may also desire to take note of any environmental changes that might serve as asthma triggers for your cat.

If you find your cats have any of the six signs mentioned in “Feline Asthma: Signs & Symptoms (Vet Answer)” by BestForPets (bestforpets.org), you should seek veterinarian care immediately.

Author Image

Dr. Deborah Fletcher

Deborah R. Fletcher, DVM, is a skilled veterinarian with more than 15 years of experience dealing with companion and exotic animals. She has experience caring for a variety of animals, including household cats and dogs, reptiles, birds of prey, and even primates. Dr. Fletcher is a valuable part of the BestForPets team, where she contributes to their aim of providing pets and their owners with the finest possible treatment and services.

Veterinarian (DVM) Dr. Deborah Fletcher


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