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Feline Asthma Takes Their Breath Away

By Kelley Weir

Anyone with asthma can tell you how terrifying it is to not be able to breathe and how immense the relief is when an attack finally subsides. Now imagine how cats with allergic asthma might feel. Their tendency to hide any type of illness or pain, combined with an inability to communicate their distress, must be scarier than we can imagine.

About 1 to 5 percent of cats suffer from allergic asthma, and current therapies only focus on treating the inflammatory reaction rather than the underlying cause of the disease. Though the percentage of cats that experience asthma is relatively low, the effects on those cats are extreme, which is one reason why Morris Animal Foundation has targeted research in this area.

When cats suffer an asthma attack, the small passageways of the lungs (bronchi, bronchioles) become inflamed, irritated and prone to collapse. The degree of irritation comes and goes, and it can be suppressed with medication, but the only way to cure the disease is to identify the offending allergen so the cat receives the appropriate treatment.

As in human asthma therapy, veterinarians usually start the cat on a steroid treatment to help control the symptoms of coughing and wheezing. The next step is testing for specific allergens to identify the cause of the attacks. However, because steroids suppress the immune system, treating cats with steroids for their asthma presents a diagnostic dilemma for veterinarians trying to determine the cause of the asthma.

In a series of Morris Animal Foundation–funded studies, researchers at the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine have evaluated whether rush immunotherapy (RIT) will ultimately provide a cure for feline asthma. For RIT to be effective, identification of the inciting allergen must be made, and there was concern that steroid treatment would inhibit this. Dr. Chee-hoon Chang, a Foundation fellow, and her mentor, Dr. Carol Norris Reinero, have examined how steroid treatment affects both allergen identification and the effectiveness of RIT. 

The researchers determined that allergy testing can still proceed while cats are taking steroids. Inhaled steroids do not inhibit successful use of RIT, so steroid use for control of clinical symptoms can be continued while the longer-term curative RIT is done.

Posted by MAFon April 10, 2012.

Categories: Animal health, Asthma , Cat health


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Submitted by Asthma at: October 8, 2012
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Submitted by edgardo roldan at: August 28, 2012
Very Informative article is there a way to improve the effectiveness of RIT and how much would this cost? I found this similar article It also mentioned asthma in cats and that in treating it medications is given in a specially adapted inhaler for cats would RIT be given the same way.
Submitted by Brad at: May 19, 2012
DianeV, what is Cystaplus? And is it effective in treating cat asthma? As for RIT, where can I receive information about getting this for my cat?
Submitted by DianeV at: April 21, 2012
My cat just had an asthma attack triggered by dust. I have an inhaler on hand so I gave her a puff and off to the vet we went. She becomes so terrified that she will urinate and defecate during an attack. She is raw fed and under the care of a holistic vet so we care giving her Cystaplus which has no side-effects and many benefits.
Submitted by Veronica Gventsadze at: April 17, 2012
Will try to find out more about RIT, sounds very promising! Anecdotal, and N = 1, but worth sharing nonetheless: a cat we treated with inhaled steroids (fluticasone) showed decreased thickness of intestines on ultrasound (this cat also had presumed IBD). We thought it was at least plausible that inhaled steroids have systemic effect to some degree. Inspired by the above case: can some cases of asthma be triggered by the same dietary antigens that cause IBD?
Submitted by Judith Bird at: April 16, 2012
The big trouble with my cat's asthma is that he is diabetic, most probably from taking steroids and eating dry food excessively. As a diabetic, he is temporarily off his insulin because he is on an exclusively wet food diet. I would not risk giving him any steroid however, for his occasional asthma attack.