FELINE RESPIRATORY DISEASE COMPLEX (FRDC)
ALLERGIC BRONCHITIS (ASTHMA)
Inflammation of the airways in the lung (bronchitis) can follow or accompany most respiratory diseases of cats. It is also a response to inhaled infectious organisms and irritant materials such as litter dust or wood smoke. One common cause of bronchitis of cats is allergic reaction to inhaled allergens that may worsen with repeated exposure to them. Over time the chronic airway inflammation can result in permanent lung damage (e.g., emphysema) that causes persistent signs even when the original cause is removed.
Cats with allergic bronchitis usually seem healthy (no fever, eating well) but have intermittent bouts of deep, low-pitched, moist-sounding coughs. The affected cat usually sits with his or her shoulders hunched up, coughs several times, and sometimes gags up foamy mucuslike material or swallows hard following each coughing bout. Coughing is sometimes accompanied by mild sneezing and shortness of breath.
Often the problem is more severe at certain times of the year than others. This is usually an indication of allergy to pollens and/or mold spores. Cats with allergies to cigarette smoke, perfumes, or other air pollutants may have signs year- round. If left untreated allergic bronchitis sometimes progresses to asthma, which causes attacks of severe breathing difficulty. Cats affected with asthma may breathe rapidly with their mouths open, wheeze, and/or make forced attempts to exhale. Their distress may cause them to paw at their mouths, and you may see their gums and tongue become bluish in color (a sign of oxygen deprivation). An asthmatic attack is an emergency calling for immediate veterinary care.
Although there is no permanent cure for feline chronic bronchitis of allergic origin and although signs of bronchitis from any cause are not emergency situations requiring immediate care, it is important to take your cat to your veterinarian if you suspect this condition. Only your veterinarian can distinguish between chronic allergic bronchitis and other conditions that may cause similar signs (e.g., lungworms); drugs designed to relieve the airway inflammation and thereby prevent an asthma attack can only be prescribed by a veterinarian who has determined that it is safe to use them.