Have you ever seen pictures of pet owners giving something to their pets via a clear tube/mask? Those pets likely have the disease called asthma. Asthma is a chronic disease affecting the respiratory system resulting in breathing difficulty, and it is not limited to humans. The causes, symptoms and treatment of asthma in pets are very similar to asthma in humans. It can occur at any age in your pet, but most commonly in younger pets. Some pet breeds, such as Siamese and Himalayan cats, are more susceptible to developing asthma. While there is still no “cure,” proper management of the symptoms and asthma attacks can help your pet to breathe better and live normally.
What may cause asthma attacks?
Triggers are similar to the ones in humans; it may start like an allergy and develop over time to an asthma attack. Triggers include things such as smoke (tobacco, fire, barbeque, etc) dust mites and dander, molds, pollen, strong scents (detergents, perfumes), airborne pollution, or it could develop secondary to a bacterial infection or allergies. Unfortunately, some allergies are passed down genetically from parents to offspring. These triggers in the respiratory system of your pet will cause uncontrolled mucus production and inflammation of the airways which may become blocked or narrowed causing the common symptoms of asthma.
What are the common symptoms I may see in my pet?
Symptoms may be varied and your dog or cat may have one or all of them:
– Coughing (most common), wheezing, shortness of breath
– Shallow, labored breathing (you may observe this as a strong movement of the abdomen as your pet inhales and exhales)
– Loss of appetite or weight loss
– Runny nose
– Breathing through an open mouth
– Tongue and gums turn a blue or purple color due to a lack of oxygen reaching the blood. Be alert for this and if you observe this symptom, consult your veterinarian immediately.
How will my veterinarian diagnose my pet with asthma?
Asthma is diagnosed by: presence of the symptoms, chest x-ray (for the inflammation of the airways), blood analysis, and response to the treatment that will be prescribed. To rule out other respiratory problems the veterinarian may perform a heartworm and parasites check up (for lungworms) and a blood count and culture for presence of possible bacterial infection.
What are the available treatments for asthma?
Pets with asthma can be treated and controlled through medication. The goal of treatment is to control secretions, improve airflow by opening airways, and reduce the symptoms. The following are medications that might be prescribe to your pet:
Oral and inhaled steroids – to reduce inflammation. This could include prednisone, which may be used intravenously for severe attacks, and inhaled Fluticasone.
Antihistamines– to open up the airways and reduce sensitivity to some allergic triggers. This includes medications such as over the counter Clemastine.
Aerosol chamber/ spacer– helps to deliver steroids such as fluticasone as well as bronchodilators such as albuterol. Pets need to be adapted slowly to the spacer and inhaler. Without giving any medication, first place the mask portion over the nose for two seconds, and then give to your pet a treat. Repeat this until your pet is comfortable with the mask and then administer the inhaled medication.
Bronchodilators– to open up the airways. Some examples include Albuterol or Salbutamol. Administer through a spacer with a mask placed over your pet’s face. Also, the oral medication Theophylline in a daily dose. Be sure to allow plenty of water for your pet to drink.
Antibiotics- if the asthma attack was triggered as secondary to a respiratory infection.
Supplemental inspired oxygen- for severe attacks (remember the purple tongue and gums)
Remember that severe asthma attacks usually need to be treated by a veterinarian and may require hospitalization.
How can I prevent future asthma attacks?
Firstly you need to identify the asthma triggers; once you do, you should work to reduce your pet’s exposure to these triggers. Sometimes weight loss and control is required to improve respiratory function; this is effective mostly in mild disease with occasional symptoms. If your pet has an infection, treat it as soon as possible. At home, try to use air purifiers or vent filters and frequent vacuuming. Other tips to decrease pet dander exposure include:
– eliminate carpets
– keeping pets in their own beds
– removing cloth curtains