As in people, asthma is a common chronic respiratory disease also frequently diagnosed in dogs and, more commonly, in cats. The symptoms of asthma can be varied and may include wheezing and difficulty breathing, often with an increased rate of respiration, as well as coughing, exercise intolerance, and restlessness or lethargy. In severe cases, some pets may need to breathe through an open mouth, because of the difficulty in oxygenating the blood. Environmental factors, including second hand cigarette smoke and dusty or moldy homes may also trigger asthma episodes in certain susceptible pets.
While veterinarians will always take a thorough history on any pet presenting with asthma-like symptoms, in many cases underlying causes or factors are often not found. Most pets presenting with chronic respiratory symptoms should have a complete medical workup, including testing for heartworms and intestinal parasites that may cause coughing, as well as complete chest x-rays to rule out other underlying respiratory conditions.
Treatment of asthmatic pets will usually involve correcting any contributing environmental factors, as well as symptomatic medications to relieve symptoms. The most common medications used include medicines to dilate the airways such as Theophylline, as well as corticosteroids to reduce inflammation, and sometimes antibiotics to treat or prevent any secondary bacterial infections. In severe cases, oxygen therapy at the veterinary hospital may be needed to stabilize many pets. Many veterinarians are now using special inhalers like the one made by Aerocat as an alternative or supplement to drug therapy when treating asthmatic cats long-term. Prognosis for managing asthma long-term is excellent, provided diagnostic workups and medical therapy is quickly instituted.