Asthma in Cats and Dogs
Just like humans, dogs and cats can both be susceptible to asthma, although statistically asthma affects cats much more often than dogs. And just like in humans, a pet’s asthma will be aggravated by allergens or irritants found in the animal’s environment. In fact, the incidence of asthma in pets is growing due to an increase in exposure to environmental pollutants.
Usually it’s hard to determine exactly which allergens cause asthma in individual animals, but common triggers include dust, grass and tree pollens, car exhaust and other air pollution, mold and mildew, cigarette or fireplace smoke, various household sprays and chemical solutions (hair sprays, deodorants, flea sprays, room deodorizers and cleaners, fragrances), and in the case of indoor cats, dust from cat litter. Even food allergies, exercise and heat/cold susceptibility can be possible factors. An excellent resource for learning more about possible triggers for your pet’s asthma or bronchial condition is: www.felineasthma.org.
Difficult as it may be to pinpoint the exact triggers, it’s well worth trying to find the culprits, because a marked improvement in the animal’s overall wellbeing can often be achieved just by eliminating its exposure to the offending irritants. While this step is no substitute for necessary medications, it can go a long way toward lessening both the severity and the frequency of your pet’s asthma attacks.
Pets of any age can get asthma. The primary sign is coughing, which cat owners and even vets sometimes misdiagnose as attempts to cough up hairballs. In mildly affected animals, coughing and wheezing may occur only occasionally. Sometimes pets with asthma are asymptomatic in between acute bouts of airway constriction; however, most severely affected animals experience daily coughing and wheezing, as well as regular severe bouts of airway constriction. These bouts can lead to open-mouth breathing and panting that can be life threatening in its most extreme forms.
The symptoms of asthma can mimic other diseases, such as heartworm, pneumonia and congestive heart failure. An accurate diagnosis can be reached with the help of chest x-rays, a complete blood count, a heartworm test, and a sampling of cells from the lower airways. It’s important to run these multiple tests, because chest x-rays may appear to be normal in some animals with asthma, while others will show clear signs of bronchial distress. If the chest x-ray shows no obvious symptoms, these further tests should rule out any of the other conditions listed above.
Once a diagnosis has been made, treatment often consists of steroids, antihistamines, bronchodilators, antibiotics or a combination of these drugs. In severe attacks, oxygen therapy may be necessary.
The prognosis for control of this disease is excellent, with most pets living happy and normal lives with the help of life-long medication; asthma in pets, however, is rarely curable. Your veterinarian can help to determine the treatment options best suited to your pet.
Although medications can greatly reduce the symptoms of asthma, they may not be able to fully eliminate the coughing. In recent years, vets have found that the most effective therapy for feline asthma may be to use inhalers similar to the type that human asthmatics use. A relatively new mask and spacer system called AeroKat®, enables cats to use inhalers or puffers. This system is similar to the mask and spacer system used to treat babies and small children. An inhaler made by the same company, AeroDawg®, is used to treat asthma and chronic bronchitis in dogs.
Alternative treatments that have sometimes shown success are acupuncture and homeopathic remedy. To find a veterinary acupuncturist near you, go to www.ivas.org. Homeopathic remedies for cats and dogs should only be used for mild respiratory symptoms, and only with veterinary supervision, to avoid the possibility of drug interactions. Go to www.onlynaturalpet.comand search “asthma” to find asthma-related products.
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