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Cat health

Asthma/bronchitis - airway disease

Allergic airway disease is also known as feline asthma, chronic bronchitis, allergic bronchitis or feline chronic small airway disease. It describes a condition where the airway branches in the lung tissue become inflamed.

It describes a condition where the airway branches in the lung tissue become inflamed. This may cause the airways to constrict, reducing airflow which causes a classic asthma attack in some cats. In other cats the airways become thickened and secrete large amounts of mucus which also restricts the movement of air in and out of the lungs.

What are the signs?
As previously mentioned, cats with allergic airway disease may suffer sudden attacks of laboured breathing (asthma). However many cats have a more prolonged clinical course, characterised by wheezing and coughing. These signs may be constant or wax and wane in severity throughout the year.

How is the condition diagnosed?
The signs of allergic lung disease may mimic other conditions of the lungs. These include bacterial infections, lung and heart worm infestations, inhaled foreign material, tumours or fluid accumulation secondary to heart disease. It is important that these other diseases are ruled out before a diagnosis of allergic airway disease can be made.

Diagnosis usually requires chest x-rays, sampling of airway secretions (bronchoalveolar lavage), +/- visualisation of the airways via bronchoscopy.

How is allergic airway disease treated?
Once other conditions have been ruled out therapy usually concentrates on reducing the amount of inflammation in the airways. Because the underling cause is an allergic reaction, which cannot be cured, the aim of treatment is to control signs rather than eliminate the disease.

Anti-inflammatory medications such as corticosteroids are often given once infections are ruled out. These can be administered by tablets, injections or directly into the airways via inhalation. Inhalation is the preferred method of treatment as it produced few side effects
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Airway constriction may be relieved by bronchodilators, either via injection, orally or inhalation.

Reducing the cat's exposure to aerosol sprays, dust and cigarette smoke is also advisable.

Remember: Obvious signs of breathing difficulty in a cat constitutes a medical emergency. If you think your cat may be having an asthma attack immediate veterinary attention is recommended.

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