Pet advice: Not treating feline asthma is dangerous to cat

Q: My cat Mindy has just been diagnosed with asthma, of all things. I didn’t even know cats could get this. It doesn’t seem to bother her much, but she does cough a lot. The worst part is that the treatment is really expensive. What happens if I don’t treat her?

A: Unless you’re beset by financial concerns serious enough to make you question whether you can feed your cat, too, you can probably afford to treat Mindy’s asthma. Not that it’s necessarily easy or ideal, mind you, but most feline asthma sufferers are mildly enough affected that they can be treated with inexpensive oral medication in lieu of the pricey stuff.

But first, some background:

Feline asthma is a chronic respiratory condition that involves the constriction and inflammation of the airways within a cat’s lungs. While the underlying cause of asthma remains unknown, allergens in the environment are commonly implicated.

Here’s how it happens:

When a cat develops asthma, mucus builds in the respiratory tract, the tissue that lines the airways swell, and this inflammation eventually leads to spasm. Wheezing, coughing and difficulty breathing result, as may lethargy, open-mouth breathing and even death.

Signs of feline asthma can come on quickly or build up more slowly over a period of days or even weeks. Mildly affected cats may simply cough occasionally, but some cases might prove so severe that cats will actually vomit or stop eating altogether during episodes of the condition.

Unfortunately, feline asthma isn’t always easily diagnosed. Correlating a cat’s medical history with physical examination findings and X-ray evidence of asthma is the typical approach, but this isn’t always easily done given asthma’s intermittent nature.

Luckily, asthma is easily treated in most cases since oral corticosteroids (like prednisone) are extremely effective. Trouble is, these systemic drugs can have serious side effects. Inhalant drugs, while very expensive, can be equally effective –– with little downside.

Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is Send questions to