Help! My Cat is Wheezing – 3 Tips to Improve Feline Breathing

Recognizing Respiratory Issues in Cats

Cats can suffer from a variety of respiratory diseases that make breathing difficult. Some common signs of feline respiratory distress include:

  • Difficulty breathing – Open mouth breathing, increased respiratory rate, breathing with abdominal effort.
  • Panting – Rapid, open-mouthed breathing, similar to a dog.
  • Wheezing – High-pitched whistling sound when breathing out.
  • Coughing – Can be moist/productive or dry and hacking.
  • Nasal discharge – Thick mucus or pus from the nose.
  • Eye discharge – Thick mucus or pus draining from one or both eyes.
  • Lethargy – Decreased energy and interest in daily activities.

According to a 2013 study, upper respiratory infections affected 38% of shelter cats surveyed ( Respiratory diseases can range from mild to severe, but any chronic breathing difficulty should be evaluated by a veterinarian.

Common Causes of Breathing Issues

Some of the most common causes of breathing difficulties in cats include:

Diagnosing the Underlying Cause

If your cat is having breathing difficulties, the first step is to take them to the veterinarian for a thorough exam. The vet will take your cat’s medical history and ask about any symptoms you’ve observed at home. They will listen to your cat’s chest with a stethoscope to check for abnormal breathing sounds like wheezing or crackling. The vet may also feel your cat’s trachea to see if there is an obstruction.

Diagnostic tests are often needed to pinpoint the cause of breathing problems in cats. Common tests include:

  • Chest X-rays – To look for abnormalities or obstructions in the lungs and airways.
  • Allergy testing – Either blood tests or intradermal skin testing to check for environmental allergies.
  • Endoscopy – A lighted scope inserted into the airways to visually inspect for obstructions or masses.

Additional tests like bloodwork, echocardiograms, CT scans, or bronchial washes may also be recommended depending on exam findings. Identifying the underlying cause through veterinary diagnostics is key to developing an effective treatment plan for your cat’s breathing difficulties.


Treating Asthma in Cats

There are several medications and treatments vets commonly prescribe for feline asthma. The main goals are to reduce inflammation, open airways, and avoid triggers.

Inhaled steroids like fluticasone or beclomethasone are very effective at reducing inflammation in a cat’s lungs. They work by reducing the immune system’s over-active response. Inhaled steroids lead to fewer asthma flare-ups and improved breathing (Source).

Bronchodilators like albuterol open up the airways and make it easier to breathe. They quickly relieve symptoms during an asthma attack. Bronchodilators can be inhaled or taken orally (Source).

Avoiding asthma triggers is also key. Common triggers include smoke, dust, pollen, air fresheners, carpets, litter dust, and more. Keep the cat away from known triggers and use air filters to improve air quality.

Oxygen therapy can sometimes be used to help a cat struggling to breathe during a severe asthma flare-up. Oxygen reduces respiratory effort and gets more oxygen into the bloodstream (Source).

Managing Allergies

Allergies are a common cause of breathing issues in cats. There are several ways to manage allergic reactions and improve your cat’s breathing.

Antihistamines can help counteract the histamine response that causes allergy symptoms. Veterinarians may prescribe antihistamines like chlorpheniramine or hydroxyzine to reduce nasal congestion, sneezing, and respiratory distress (1). Always consult your vet before giving any medication.

Feeding a hypoallergenic diet is another way to control allergies. Hypoallergenic cat foods contain protein sources that are less likely to cause an immune reaction. Some options include Purina Pro Plan LiveClear Formula Dry Cat Food or Royal Canin Hydrolyzed Protein Cat Food (2).

Using air filters and purifiers can trap allergens like pollen and dust that may trigger reactions. Filters with HEPA filtration help remove particulates from the air (3). Changing HVAC filters regularly also helps keep allergens under control.

Allergy shots, or immunotherapy, can gradually desensitize your cat to specific allergens over time. Your vet administers a series of allergy extracts to build immune tolerance. This option provides longer-lasting allergy relief compared to medications alone.

With a combination approach tailored to your cat’s needs, allergies can often be well-managed for improved breathing and comfort.

Improving Air Quality

One of the best ways to help cats with breathing issues is by improving the air quality in your home. Poor indoor air quality can exacerbate respiratory problems in pets. There are several steps you can take to optimize air quality:

Invest in an air purifier designed for pets. Air purifiers with HEPA filters are effective at capturing allergens, dander, dust, and smoke particulates. According to experts, air purifiers with good filtration can significantly improve indoor air for pets.

Use cleaning products designed to reduce allergens. Look for pet-friendly cleaners that help minimize dander and other irritants. Vacuum regularly using a vacuum with a HEPA filter.

Control dust by using washable bedding and dust-resistant surfaces. Reduce clutter where dust can accumulate. Clean frequently to control dust buildup.

Ensure your home is smoke-free. Secondhand smoke is harmful to pets. Make sure no one smokes indoors around your cat.

Exercise and Weight Control

Maintaining an ideal body weight is crucial for a cat’s respiratory health. Obesity puts additional pressure on the lungs and chest cavity, restricting lung capacity and function (Caro-Vadillo, 2022). Studies show overweight cats experience more issues with labored breathing compared to cats at a healthy weight (Impact of Obesity on Lung Function in Cats with Asthma, 2022).

Make exercise a daily habit to prevent obesity and support respiratory health. Set aside 10-15 minutes for interactive playtime using wand toys. Engage your cat’s natural hunting instincts by having them chase and pounce. This type of aerobic activity gets the heart pumping and lungs working hard. Monitor your cat’s weight and adjust portion sizes to maintain an optimal body condition.

Gradual weight loss is safer than crash dieting. Consult your veterinarian to develop a tailored weight loss plan if your cat is overweight. With daily activity and proper nutrition, you can take pressure off your cat’s respiratory system and make breathing easier.

Stress Reduction

Reducing stress is crucial for cats with breathing issues, as stress can exacerbate respiratory symptoms. Here are some tips for reducing stress:

Enrich the cat’s environment with opportunities for play, exploration and hiding. Provide interactive toys, scratching posts, cat trees and perches. Create a safe space or hiding area where the cat can retreat when needed. Using synthetic feline pheromones such as Feliway can help relieve anxiety. Maintain a predictable routine for feeding, playtime, and interactions.

Avoid conflict with other household pets if possible. Give the cat their own dedicated spaces and resources. Use separate litter boxes, food bowls and sleeping areas for multiple cats. Introduce new pets gradually. Let the sick cat set the pace for interactions.

According to a 2020 study published in NCBI, frequent positive human interaction can reduce stress and respiratory disease risk in shelter cats. Pet the cat gently, use calming voices, and allow the cat to disengage on their terms.

Follow Up Care

It is important to closely monitor your cat’s breathing after they have been diagnosed and treated for a respiratory issue. Keep a log of their respiratory rate and effort, as well as any coughing or changes in breathing sounds. If your vet prescribed medication, be sure to give it as directed and watch for side effects.

Follow up appointments with your vet are crucial to assess your cat’s progress. X-rays or other diagnostic tests may be recommended to see if there have been improvements in lung inflammation or airway obstruction. Your vet can make adjustments to medications if needed. Don’t hesitate to call your vet if your cat’s breathing seems to worsen again.

With diligent at-home care and follow up visits, many cats can go on to manage chronic respiratory diseases. Monitor your cat’s breathing every day and have your vet examine them regularly to achieve the best quality of life. Consistent care and open communication with your vet gives your cat the greatest chance of breathing easier.

When to Seek Emergency Treatment

If your cat is experiencing severe difficulty breathing, collapsing, or has blue gums or loss of consciousness, you should seek emergency veterinary treatment immediately. These are signs your cat is not getting enough oxygen and is in a life-threatening situation.

Some specific emergency symptoms that require urgent vet care include:

  • Severe respiratory distress with loud breathing noises
  • Inability to breathe or gasping for air
  • Collapsing or loss of consciousness
  • Blue/purple gums or tongue
  • Extreme lethargy or weakness

If your cat displays any of these symptoms, contact an emergency vet clinic immediately. Even if you recently visited your regular vet, a sudden worsening of breathing difficulties is an emergency. Waiting too long can have fatal consequences.

Be prepared to describe your cat’s symptoms in detail. The vet will provide oxygen therapy and determine if hospitalization is required to stabilize your cat’s breathing. With prompt emergency care, many cats can recover and go on to be managed for underlying respiratory conditions.

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