feline asthma picture

Thompson, the author's cat, shows off his AeroKat feline asthma inhaler. Photo: Kirsten Taylor

Sometimes feline asthma can just sound like a bad hairball. But if your cat is making hacking noises without spewing blobs of hair, it might be something more serious.

Feline asthma causes cats to wheeze and cough, making sounds that are often mistaken for the gagging, retching sounds that go along with hairballs. About one in a hundred adult cats suffer from feline asthma, according to the Winn Feline Foundation. Untreated, the disease can be deadly.

Feline asthma goes by a variety names, such as chronic bronchitis and allergic bronchitis. "Really, [feline asthma] is a hypersensitivity to allergens in the air," says Paw Nation expert vet Matthew Cooper. Common allergens include cat-litter dust, plant pollen, air fresheners, flea sprays, and hair spray, along with smoke from fireplaces and cigarettes. Those allergens cause muscles in a sensitive cat's airways to contract, making it hard for the kitty to breathe.

Just like in people, feline asthma attacks can range from mild to severe. Fortunately, treatments exist -- and they, too, mimic asthma treatment for humans. Inhaled steroids help prevent attacks by reducing inflammation in the airways. And inhaled drugs called bronchodilators help open the airways when an attack is occurring, reports the Winn Feline Foundation.

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