When one of our technicians noticed her then 8 year old cat occasionally wheezing when he came out of the litter box, she didn’t think much of it. But then he started urinating on the carpet and a urine sample was normal, suggesting a behavior problem. When the wheezing increased and the cat had a full blown asthma attack, it was obvious that the problem was the dusty cat litter. Having made some changes, including a grainfree diet and dustfree litter, our technician is happy to report that her cat is healthy and has only had one asthma attack within the past year.
Feline asthma can be tricky to diagnose and treat. The symptoms are similar to that of human asthma. Cats with this condition suffer from recurring respiratory distress when the airway walls swell and the muscles spasm and constrict. Some cats have a chronic low-grade cough, while others have no symptoms until an acute attack (sudden onset of symptoms). An asthma attack is a serious, life threatening event.
Asthmatic cats will sometimes hunch their shoulders and extend their necks. Some will vomit foam or saliva. Open mouth breathing and blue or purple gums are signs of a serious attack. Cats can develop asthma at any age.
If you suspect your cat has asthma, you can view videos of cats having attacks on YouTube. Your cat should also have a chest xray and bloodwork to look for bronchial changes and to rule out other conditions such as infection, tumors or heartworm disease.
Once your cat has been officially diagnosed, there are many things you can do to keep your cat comfortable. Some cats have severe forms of the disease and will need to take medication. Other patients can be controlled with some lifestyle changes.
*Feed a grainfree diet. Presence of corn and other potentially allergenic ingredients can create inflammation in the body.
*Use dust free and unscented cat litter. Most conventional clay litters are extremely dusty and even some dust free varieties are heavily scented. Many cats are picky about their litter, so you might need to experiment with different brands and types to find one that works for you.
*Change the air filters in your home frequently and don’t smoke inside. Wood burning fireplaces and scented candles can also cause lung irritation.
*Be cautious when opening your windows. On Code Red ozone days, or days when pollen counts are high, you may want to leave the windows closed.
*Swap out your cleaning products for “green” versions. Cleaners like bleach and aerosol sprays can all cause vapors that irritate the airway. If you can’t avoid using these products, remove your cat from the room and be sure to ventilate well.
*Clean frequently. Many cats are sensitive to dust, mold and dust mites. Frequent dusting and vacuuming and laundering of linens and throw rugs will help.
*Be aware of possible stressful situations. Stress is a frequent trigger for an asthma event. Cats who don’t deal with change well may need to be confined in a quiet space with food, water and litter until the stressful event has passed.