Feline asthma topics
Overview Symptoms Diagnosis Encouragement
Key Symptoms

Common symptoms include:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of Breath
  • The non-productive "hairball" cough
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Feline Asthma Symptoms

This page describes the common symptoms of feline asthma. Included is a guide to varying distress levels and how to check your cat for normal breath rate per minute. Other pages in this Overview section describe feline asthma, identify some of the steps veterinarians use to diagnose it plus ideas of encouragement. 

Coughing: Fritz during asthmatic attack. Length 1:22. Video and voice-over script Copyright 2005: J. Perkins, K. Hopper; production Copyright 2005: Trudell Medical, Int. (Note: film was taken by Kathryn while James was getting the rescue inhaler, Albuterol with AeroKat®. The film loops for illustration purposes only and Fritz was relieved, in real time, within seconds.) Windows Media Player required:

Symptoms to Watch For

  • Wheezing or rapid, labored breathing
  • Persistent cough, looks like hairball behavior but is unproductive
  • Squatting with shoulders hunched, neck extended & low to the ground
  • Frothy mucus while coughing
  • Lethargy
  • Open mouth breathing
  • Labored breath after exertion
  • Upward extended neck and gasping for breath

Fritz says: "Symptoms can range from infrequent to recurrent to constant, sometimes seasonal, varying from cat to cat. Sometimes I have abdominal breathing but haven't coughed, sometimes it's the other way around. Some other cats have had their lips and nose -- normally pink -- turn blue (cyanosis) -- but not me. Being a Siamese, my breed tends to show more incidence of asthma, but all ages, sex and breeds can be effected."

A cat showing any of the milder symptoms above, even intermittent, should see a veterinarian soon. Coughing or wheezing occurs because the lungs are inflamed and are at risk of developing permanent scars, or a collapsed lung lobe. Any cough is a serious matter, especially if chronic, frequent or daily.

A cat showing any of the crisis symptoms, blue lips or nose, frothy drooling, or obvious difficulty breathing requires immediate, emergency vet attention. Asthma can be very serious and can cause death from respiratory or heart failure.

Distress Levels

James and Kathryn have categorized Fritz' symptoms into increasing levels of distress. These can be used as a guideline for your cat with adjustment to his or her particular symptoms:

  1. Asymptomatic: I feel great, sleep well, eat really well, and have the best time playing with my toys and pals.
  2. Minor Attack: I start coughing and have a tough time stopping. I hold my neck out straight and keep my head close to the ground while I cough. My lungs sound gurgly, and in a stethoscope sound "crackly".
  3. Full-blown Attack: Breathing becomes labored and the volume inspired is low, my sides heave in and out (abdominal breathing), and I look puffy (my lungs have too much air trapped in them due to excess mucus). I am unable to do any of my normal activities.
  4. Crisis: I pant, looking like a very frightened or very aggressive cat, but really it is just because it is hard to breathe. I start to get a lot of mucus in my lungs and start drooling big frothy drools. My heart races.
  5. Praying This Isn't My Ninth Life: I sit up and try to stretch up high to get my breath but it is very hard, like sucking air through a flattened drinking straw.
  6. Cardiopulmonary Collapse and Death. Not one of my symptoms, thank the Tuna Gods.

Fritz continues: "Untreated, I can proceed rapidly from one level to another in a matter of minutes or a matter of days. As I progress to more critical levels, I exhibit many symptoms of the less-severe levels, so it all snowballs. This is very frightening to me, my caregivers, and the vet. Drugs can slow or arrest this progression, and if my disease is managed well I will never get past level 2."

Breathing - Rate and Sounds

The normal breath rate for a sleeping cat is 24-30 per minute (rise and fall counts for one breath); over 40 may need veterinary attention. Snoring or loud breathing at rest is not necessarily a sign of a problem. Ask your vet if you have concerns.

Below are some examples of sounds your veterinarian will hear through a stethoscope (auscultation). Although these are recorded from human patients, they are very similar to what can be heard in cats and dogs.

Additional examples of normal and abnormal respiration sounds may be found at The R.A.L.E. Repository

Breath sounds used by permission. Created by S. Dru Forrester. Originally published by Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine.

Continue Reading at Diagnosis

© 2001-2008 Kathryn Hopper & James Perkins. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to print portions of this website for personal and veterinary reference only. Disclaimer: All material on Fritzthebrave.com is provided for educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional veterinary care. Consult your cat's veterinarian regarding all aspects of your cat's health. Fritzthebrave.com provides links to other organizations as a community service and is not responsible for the information, services, or products they provide.

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