My Cat has Asthma!

I arrived home from work around midnight to two hungry cats pacing in circles for their dinner.  After giving them each a scoop of food and fixing myself some trader joe’s pancakes for my own dinner, i settled down with a glass of red wine and TLC’s Trading Spaces to help unwind from the day.  But a strange noise caught my ear.  I looked down to see Louise staring at me, grunting and sniffling.  What’s wrong, Squeezie? I cooed.  She didn’t answer me, just kept making those funny breathing noises.

You’d think that as an ER doctor I could figure out what was wrong.  Sure, if she was a newborn, or a toddler, or even a full grown adult I could have examined her nose, her throat, her lungs, etc and try to isolate the problem. But she’s a cat…a very tiny body compared to a full grown adult.  I peered up her nostrils to see if her nose was running.  I pried open her teeth to see if there were any furballs in the back of her throat. Nope, none.  I cut her nails…I knew this was going to get hairy and decided to protect myself.

I grabbed my stethescope and began listening to her lungs, her heart, her throat…but I had no clue what I was hearing.  it sounded like she was purring.  Did she have stridor?  The noise she made reminded me of a 2 year old with croup.  Should I take her into the steamy bathroom and then out into the cold air?  No…she’s a cat, I reminded myself.

I was getting concerned. It was now 2 AM and her symptoms were worse, not better.  I had no idea what was wrong, and felt a little silly.  I had to work the next day, could I afford to be up all night at the veterinary clinic?  I realized I didn’t have a choice.  her breathing was getting worse, and as a people doctor, I knew that the type of noise she was making was potentially a sign of airway obstruction….this was a kitty emergency!

So I wrapped her up in a blanket and off we went.  Fortunately there is a clinic about 5 miles from my house that is open all night. I rehearsed my chief complaint on the way over.   I knew a long winded explanation was not necessary.  if she were a people, we’d bring her right back to the treatment area for urgent evaluation before wasting time asking questions in  triage.

I rang the bell and entered the animal hospital.

“What’s wrong?”

“She’s having trouble breathing”

She was immediately taken back to the treatment area and placed in an oxygen cage.

I have to admit that I was more than a little worried.  I imagined all the things that I do when I see a patient with trouble breathing. I imagined that I knew what they were doing with her in the back.  I hoped that they could figure it out and wouldn’t need to do a kitty intubation.  Eternal moments later, the veterinarian came out to ask me some questions. I tried to assess how concerned she was…or was she just being matter of fact?

Has she been sick?
Does she take any medicines?
Has she had any illnesses in the past?

I asked how Louise was doing, and the vet told me that they had given her a shot of terbutaline, a medicine related to adrenaline to help with her breathing.  She was pretty certain that it was an asthma attack.



Cats get asthma?????   Well it’s no wonder, they GIVE asthma to plenty of people.

So they gave her steroids, terbutaline, a kitty chest x-ray (2 views!), prescriptions for flovent & albuterol, and sheet of paper with a website with videos and information about giving cats aerosol treatments.  Little kitty breathing masks and little kitty spacers.

Poor kitty.  They gave her a sedative as well…she looks kind of stoned now, she’s been staring at the same spot on the wall since we got home about 20 minutes ago, but at least her breathing is better.  She’s still a little wheezy.  Weesie.  That’s her nickname, who would have ever guessed it would be prophetic?

Just like parents who have kids with peanut allergies have to educate their friends, the childs teachers, and other parents about treatment of allergic reactions with medications, I’ll have to teach all my friends how to check a kitty respiratory rate (should be less than 30), and give kitty albuterol in case of an acute asthma attack.

So…who wants to watch my cat for me next time I’m on vacation?

  6 comments for “My Cat has Asthma!

  1. Jared
    January 27, 2008 at 2:17 pm

    I will. Does your cat like the Caribbean?

  2. Doc Shazam
    January 28, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    I’m sure she will…she would make a great scuba shop cat, lazing around on the dock in the sun, watching the fish adn crabs below her!

  3. March 9, 2008 at 11:09 am

    From my 14 years experience, the sneeze and the cough repeatedly enable to be happened the unnatural , hardening to the important two chest muscles. Besides that, we also often find the case because of the dislocation of some ligamentum, which has a role to the sternum hasp moving.
    The decreasing of the muscle elasticity and the flank movement enable to the happening of the ‘dirt’ sedimentation in that area mentioned. Finally, it clogs the liquid supply to the pleura part.
    The sedimentations in the scapula part can also affect the decreasing elasticity of the flank moving. This does not surprise that the majority of the asthma sufferers complain, the part of the right scapula feels ill and stiff. Part of the sufferers shows the decreasing of the muscle elasticity to the center of the backbone or vertebrata.
    The other cause of this asthma is the degradation of the diaphragm elasticity limiting the chest and the stomach. As we know, that the diaphragm is the main muscle of the breathing process. The hardening in this part is very disturbing the expansion to the direction toward the abdomen.
    Dear Mr/Mrs
    I’m so sorry for your complaint of asthma and I wish you become better soon.

    My regards
    PennasiaNormalization (dot com)

  4. Doc Shazam
    March 14, 2008 at 11:25 pm

    I published the above post as it’s not really controversial, but it’s clearly a spam post meant to get a backlink to the owner’s site. That’s fine with me, I guess, but I chuckle at the response, which is clearly 1) not written in english and/or is automatically “spun” in order to not leave identical comments on blogs discussing asthma.

  5. March 26, 2008 at 3:02 am

    Dear Dr. Hassle,

    I am an internist with a medical news website, Hot Medical News which your readers may be interested in.
    If you agree, perhaps you could link to my site.

    Thanks for your time and consideration.


    Brian Carty, MD, MSPH

  6. Michalann Allan
    May 25, 2008 at 3:59 pm

    I found your website while looking for information on kitty skin disorders…..???however, just felt compelled to tell you that as a Physician I would not presume to tell you about asthma, human or kitty, but I had an asthmatic baby, Mickey Braveheart, and we lost the battle in May of 2008. He came to us as a stray/feral so we know nothing of his earlier days except that he was old……at least older……8-10. We know that he could never have lived on the streets with it as bad as he was so like your little darlin’, it just appeared one day but his progressed to a few little bouts with all the same things that you did, up to oxygen almost every day, terbutiline almost daily, respiratory rate of 60-85 and as much as we loved him, we knew we had to let him go. We removed everything from the house that might set it off, no scented anything, hepa filters in everything, hardwood floors cleaned daily, non-allergic food, but to no avail. Feline asthma is a terrible disease and I keep hearing there is only about 1% of cats get it but then keep hearing about cats that have it. Is it not diagnosed, or what? What I did want you to know though all my cats are special needs who would have been euthanized, some from cruelty, entropian eyelids, amputees and another one we thought had asthma. We gave her all the same medicines you mentioned at , as you know, a great expense including Theophylline for over a year and it seemed strange to me that she never seemed one bit better. She open mouth breathes, pants, and makes those strange purring noises. we finally found a semi-specialist in feline asthma & we risked endoscopy on her to find that her nasal nares are very, very tiny, about 1/2 what they should be, with a little tiny esophagus opening, and a small dip. Whether it is all birth defect, or from a severe untreated respiratory infection (she was also an abused stray/feral baby) we don’t know. But her lungs appear fine (even though I was told they were scarred earlier and of course, treated for asthma. Gunk, for lack of a better word, collects at the base of her throat and she makes the very loud and distressing gagging, noises……her respiratory rate increases to a very rapid rate (we think part of it is fear), and she has all the appearance and sounds of asthma or emphysema while trying to clear that from her throat. we have used an antihistamine on her but don’t think it helps much. I occasionally use her Allbuterol just to maybe relax her airway a little and interestingly enough, we use a plain saline solution in her nose which seems to clear (or significantly help) her throat. Of course don’t you know what fun it is to put nose drops in something with claws and sharp teeth)?) It is still scarry and I often am ready to rush her back to the kitty ER but have been assurred that while it is not an ideal condition to have and causes her a lot of discomfort, it is not life threatening. Just thought you might like to know and endoscope might show something …………3 previous vets treated her for asthma. I think there just isn’t a lot known about feline asthma and there is a lot of guessing. Sorry for the long post but maybe it will help someone who reads this.

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