Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the lower airways which leads to respiratory signs. Some feel that genetic makeup and environmental factors may play a role in causing asthma. It has also been suggested that dietary hypersensitivity may lead to asthma. The signs of asthma can get better and worse, but it is indeed classified as a feline allergic airway disease.
When diagnosing asthma in a cat, we first do a physical exam and listen specifically to the lower airway for sounds relating to expiration. Cats with profound asthma may exhibit expiratory dyspnea, or more difficulty exhaling than inhaling. We routinely perform blood tests and take chest radiographs looking for a thickening of the bronchioles. Other causes of these changes range from heartworm disease, lungworms, and bronchitis.
Feline asthma is treated with either injectable or oral glucocorticoids. These medications lower the inflammation in the airway of the cat, allowing him to breathe with less effort. Other medications include bronchodilators, which open up the airway.
We try to find the underlying cause but many times cannot find the cause. A lot of research is being done to test for allergies, and allergen-specific immunotherapy is being investigated.
When treating for asthma in the diabetic cat, it is crucial to reduce the amount of glucocorticoids being used. This can be accomplished by using a spacer. Aerokat.com is a great source for information and tips on how to get your cat accustomed to the use of the spacer for delivering aerosolized medication. Inhaled glucocorticoids have minimal systemic effects and still are very effective.
The medication used in the spacer is Flovent, which is a glucocorticoid. It works by reducing inflammation by going directly to the target organ, the bronchioles. When starting the cat on the spacer, the oral glucocorticoids can gradually be reduced as the inhaler takes over. Eventually, the goal is to use only the spacer, eliminating the oral medication entirely. This would decrease any side effects stemming from glucocorticoid use.