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April 30, 2020 – Our cats aren’t going to be blowing into a tube anytime soon to check their blood alcohol level, but they just might be using similar technology for earlier detection of a common and sometimes deadly feline respiratory problem – asthma.

Asthma affects nearly 5 percent of domestic cats and can be difficult to diagnose, resulting in treatment delays that can worsen symptoms. Now, studies on a new, non-invasive diagnostic test suggest the test may one day help veterinarians identify and treat asthma in cats earlier – potentially meaning fewer acute asthmatic attacks and improved lung health for cats in the long term.

University of Missouri researchers, funded with a grant from Morris Animal Foundation, examined biomarkers in exhaled breath condensate. EBC is collected by exhaling into a cooling device, which causes the moisture in the breath to condense into droplets of liquid. In humans, for example, breath alcohol concentration, or BrAC, is one type of EBC-based test.

The research team collected condensate from cats with signs of asthma and compared it to condensate from cats without asthma. The team found components that differed between the two types of samples, and that may be promising biomarkers to help identify cats with asthma.

“In order to appropriately treat asthma, it must be definitively diagnosed,” said Dr. Carol Reinero, Associate Professor, Director of the Comparative Internal Medicine Laboratory at the University of Missouri Veterinary Health Center, and the study’s principal investigator. “The gold standard means of diagnosis to sample airways requires anesthesia, posing some risk to patients with airway disease, including patients with undiagnosed asthma.”

Coughing and increased breathing effort are the two most common signs of asthma in cats. However, some cats show no clinical signs until they have an asthmatic crisis. Many other diseases, such as heartworm disease, lungworm infection and chronic bronchitis can have similar signs. Because each disease is treated differently, making an accurate diagnosis is important. Left untreated, asthma is not only distressing for a pet cat but can cause permanent damage to the lungs.

“Having a non-invasive means of diagnosing asthma early in the course of disease will allow proper targeted therapy that can prevent declines in lung function over time,” said Dr. Reinero.

To build on their research findings, Dr. Reinero and her team developed a panel of biomarkers to validate their findings in more cats with and without naturally occurring asthma. If successfully validated, the panel could become an early diagnostic tool to help veterinarians identify and treat cats with asthma before they develop serious lung problems or suffer from an acute asthma attack.

About Morris Animal Foundation

Morris Animal Foundation is a global leader in funding scientific studies that advance the health of companion animals, horses and wildlife. Since its founding in 1948, the Foundation has invested over $155 million in more than 2,700 studies that have led to significant breakthroughs in diagnostics, treatments and preventions to benefit animals worldwide. Learn more at Morris Animal Foundation