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Step-By-Step Guide for How to Tell if Your Cat Has Asthma

Misty Layne Profile Picture

By Misty Layne

cat open mouth

As pet owners, we worry about our pets’ health, so we’re always looking for any strange behavior that could indicate illness—especially when it comes to cats, who are not only wildly independent but notorious for hiding when they feel bad. They can make it challenging to figure out whether something is wrong with them.

One thing people worry about with cats is asthma. Can cats even develop asthma? They can! Though it doesn’t affect many cats, it’s still possible your pet may have it. But how can you tell? This article can help you understand the signs your cat might have asthma.

Can Cats Have Asthma?

Though it is rare – it’s estimated that only between 1-5% of cats are affected – cats can develop asthma. Most felines are diagnosed somewhere between 4 and 5 years of age, with neither gender appearing to be more susceptible than the other. How, exactly, do they get it, though?

Most experts believe that asthma in cats appears similar to how it appears in humans. That is to say, feline asthma is a reaction in the immune system to allergens inhaled by a cat. Once the immune system reacts to these allergens, it can cause inflammation. Then, inflamed cells can be created in the airways and make chemicals that result in even more inflammation; thus, a cat with asthma.

cat with asthma
Image Credit: RozochkaIvn, Shutterstock

Causes of Asthma in Cats

Now that you know cats can develop asthma, the question is, what can cause asthma in a cat? A few of the most common allergens that result in feline asthma include:

  • Dust
  • Mold
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Fireplace smoke
  • Pollen
  • Dusty litter
  • Household cleaners
  • Spray air fresheners
  • Mildew

Step-By-Step Guide for Telling if Your Cat Has Asthma

If you suspect your kitty may have asthma, but you’re just not sure, follow this step-by-step guide to decipher what symptoms to look for and how to get a proper diagnosis.

1. Look for Non-Asthma Attack Symptoms.

While it is likely easier to see symptoms when your cat is in the throes of an asthma attack, there are some symptoms that can appear outside of asthma attacks as well. Note that these symptoms can occur for other illnesses or diseases, too, though. These may include:

  • If your pet is panting or breathing through its mouth, it could be due to asthma.
  • Rapid or heavy breathing. Cats breathe faster than humans, admittedly, but the average rate of breath for felines is between 25-30 breaths a minute when they aren’t being active. If your kitty is taking over 30 breaths a minute when it’s at rest, it could be a sign of asthma.
  • Lethargy in felines can signify low oxygen in the blood.
sick cat
Image Credit: Ro_ksy, Shutterstock

2. Look for Asthma Attack Symptoms.

There will be several noticeable signs when your cat is having an asthma attack. Not all may be seen, and as with the symptoms above, these may occur for non-asthma-related reasons. These can include:

  • Does your cat often hack and cough, like it’s trying to pass a hairball? It may not be a hairball; it could be an asthma attack.
  • Crouching with their neck extended. This position can help your pet get as much air as they can during an asthma attack.
  • If your cat is wheezing, a sound like whistling or rattling, when it breathes, it could be a sign that airways are swollen.
  • Lips or gums that are blue. As with humans, if your pet isn’t getting enough air, its lips or gums could start turning blue.

3. Getting Your Cat Diagnosed.

If you witness your cat having one or more of the symptoms above, it’s time to get a diagnosis. This means a trip to the vet. Unfortunately, there isn’t a specific test your vet can do to determine if your pet has asthma. Instead, your vet will likely do an amalgamation of tests to rule out other causes for these symptoms that can include:

vet giving cat an inhaler
Image Credit: Shveyn Irina, Shutterstock

Treating Your Cat’s Asthma

Now that you know how to tell if your cat has asthma, it’s time to learn about treatments for it. The most likely treatments your vet will provide will be corticosteroids to ease inflammation and a bronchodilator medication such as albuterol sulfate to help release bronchial constriction. Both drugs come in various forms, such as injectable, oral, or inhalable.

A few experimental treatments may offer benefits, but haven’t been conclusively proven to do so. For example, building up your cat’s resistance to allergens (like allergy shots for people) may help. Incorporating omega-3 fatty acids into your pet’s diet can also prove beneficial. Finally, drugs used to disrupt the pathways that can lead to inflammation have shown some promise in treating feline asthma.

Preventing Asthma Attacks

Along with any treatments your vet gives, there are several things you can do at home to help prevent asthma attacks from occurring. Some ways to give your cat a helping hand are by:

  • Getting rid of any known allergens. You can’t get rid of all allergens, unfortunately, but if you know dust is something that sets off your kitty’s asthma, then keeping the house as dust-free as possible will be beneficial.
  • Use dust-free litter.
  • Don’t smoke inside your home.
  • Avoid using spray air fresheners.
  • Be careful about the types of household cleaners you use.


Our pets getting sick can be scary, but it makes it easier to get the issue treated as soon as possible when you know what to look for. If your cat has any of the symptoms of having asthma or seems to be having an asthma attack, take them in to see their vet right away for a proper diagnosis. The vet will run tests to see what is causing symptoms such as wheezing or hacking, whether it be asthma or something else. If your kitty does have asthma, it can be treated with medication, plus you can take steps at home to prevent asthma attacks from occurring.

Featured Image Credit: photosforyou, Pixabay

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