Our vet diagnosed feline asthma. Could it be something else?
January 14, 2005 9:41 AM   Subscribe

Feline asthma. Any experience? Possible misdiagnosis? (MI)

My 3-year-old female cat (half siamese, half tabby) has been diagnosed with asthma after a serious episode in which her coughing (which mimics hairball-removing coughs) became more frequent/severe and her breathing inbetween was a horrible wheezing (she had great difficulty expelling the air in her lungs).

After the vet performed an exam and x-rays, heart problems were ruled out (based on heart size in x-ray alone, no blood tests were performed), and she was given IV steroids and sent home with a scrip for Prednisolone. After about 48 hours her breathing was fully normalized and her coughing episodes were very infrequent. Now, a week later, she has the occasional cough but has begun sneezing repeatedly over the course of the day (30 times yesterday, at least). Now, sneezing is not uncommon in cats with asthma, but it seems to me that given the amount of steroids in her system right now (the step-down to one pill from two began today), the combination with the coughing strikes me as something more upper-respiratory based than asthma.

The asthma diagnosis is a bit strange to me-- while I have recently moved (different city, same climate), the apartment I am in now has hardwood floors and is 6 years old (versus the carpeted 20-year old building of the previous two years), and it seems to me that the aggravating factors that would be asthma-related should be less here (here being the only place she's had symptoms), not more. I've done my Google research-- for example, I know that asthma is inexplicably more common in siamese cats, as well as more common for females, but I am planning on getting a second opinion from another vet and want to know what possible explanations exist that I haven't yet considered or encountered online, as well as how insistent I should be with the vet(s) that something doesn't strike me as right with the diagnosis. Additional factors: I have two indoor cats and the other has no symptoms whatsoever (complicating my upper respiratory theory); they have both been indoor cats for life. *Any* ideas? Experience?
posted by mireille to Pets & Animals (11 answers total)
We have an asthmatic cat, a six-year-old female tortoiseshell. We give Mini an inhaler (I forget the prescription name) daily when her coughing fits get bad. The fits happen around once a week during the summer and a lot more frequently during the winter.

She's always lived in the same apartment, with hardwood floors. The other two cats in the house have no symptoms. I don't know why that would indicate that an asthma diagnosis is wrong, though: I have asthma but my sisters don't, and we grew up under the same conditions. (Not that I'm an expert, and not that cats = people.)

That aside, a second opinion is still a good idea, since you're going to be dealing with hefty bills for prescriptions if it is asthma (the inhaler is something like $90 a month), and it's best to make sure. And get pet insurance if you can.
posted by goatdog at 9:57 AM on January 14, 2005

Wow, the synchronicity of MeFi continues to amaze me. My kitty coughs--like she's trying to bring up a hairball--whenever she wakes from a deep sleep (not a catnap). It's getting worse, and I called the vet today and they suggested it might be asthma and to bring her in. The info here has me forearmed for possible medications/costs/diagnoses. Thanks!
posted by WolfDaddy at 10:06 AM on January 14, 2005

How on earth does a cat inhaler work?
posted by matildaben at 10:09 AM on January 14, 2005

It's an extension for a regular inhaler: you fit the inhaler into the end of a long tube, and on the other end is a mouthpiece that fits over the cat's nose and mouth. Pictures here.
posted by goatdog at 10:22 AM on January 14, 2005

Response by poster: My vet doesn't recommend the inhaler (and from what I can tell, most of the links I've found online go to the cat-adapter that goatdog references and appear to be promotional, not unpaid recommendations).

WolfDaddy: the steroids are cheap (ultimately going to run me about $50 USD/ year at a half a pill every other day), but the health costs are high-- increased risk of diabetes, etc.

I'm also planning on looking into alternative therapies (acupuncture, whatever else I can find), as I just don't like the idea of my baby being on steroids for life. Any experience with this topic would also be useful (piggybacking on my own question; is that okay?)...
posted by mireille at 10:24 AM on January 14, 2005

Response by poster: (i suppose i could mention WHY the vet doesn't recommend the inhaler-- simply because it's just as hard to administer as a pill, and more expensive. i have read that it is healthier, though, because it delivers the drug directly to the lungs, rather than diluting it throughout the body and indirectly affecting the whole system. it might be an option for me in the future, if this truly is asthma.)

goatdog: have you heard any good explanation as to why the symptoms would increase in the winter? i don't know much about pollen in my area, but my windows are closed more in the winter than in the summer (shocking, i know), and i just can't puzzle some of this stuff out.
posted by mireille at 10:29 AM on January 14, 2005

We did the pills for a while, but the vet advised against it long-term unless it was absolutely necessary (because of the health risks), so she told us to get the inhaler. Perhaps it has to do with severity. Dunno. It's not very hard to administer. Pet kitty. Grab kitty between knees. Gas kitty for ten seconds. Release. Give kitty treat. It's about the same difficulty as the pills were, except that she can't spit the gas out over and over like she did with the pills.

I don't know why symptoms are worse in the winter, but my symptoms are worse too.

Our vet recommended that we stop using clay-based litter, too, because even the dust-free stuff releases dust. We use this weird stuff made out of corn. It's expensive, but it seems to have reduced the number of her coughing fits.
posted by goatdog at 10:40 AM on January 14, 2005

It could be mold or some other allergy, something she's allergic to that the other cat isn't. Also, on the steroids, my vet basically told us that prednisolone is like cat advil. Cats can take a much larger dose than dogs or people without a lot of side effects, but you still dont want your cat on it for life. It does calm inflammation though, which is good for stuff from asthma to IBD.
posted by Medieval Maven at 1:23 PM on January 14, 2005

I agree that this could be an allergy which is aggravating her asthma. And don't forget that it's possible that she's got a minor infection on top of the asthma (a downside to steroids is that they tend to weaken the immune response). There are no blood tests for heart problems that I'm aware of, other than an ECG and ultrasound, x-rays and auscultation are normally used to rule out heart issues (with feline asthma being as common as it is, it's more likely to be asthma than a heart problem). I would not personally be doubting the vet's diagnosis based on the symptoms you're seeing. The fast response to the steroids makes it likely that the main issue was one of inflammation (consistent with asthma), and the increase in sneezing could be related to allergies or a minor infection, neither of which means she doesn't have asthma. That said, there's of course nothing wrong with getting a second opinion, and since it sounds like you don't trust your vet (this is a very common diagnosis, and even accounting for what you describe, it doesn't sound like something I would personally feel the need for a second opinion on unless I had reason not to trust the first vet), I suggest you switch to a vet you trust .

Most pet insurance companies will not cover you for pre-existing conditions (and the ones that will normally charge so much that it's cheaper to just have a credit card or bank account for the pet).
posted by biscotti at 4:12 PM on January 14, 2005

I second (or third?) the allergy diagnosis. My younger cat had coughing fits when she was a wee one. She'd get to where it sounded like she had a swimming pool in her little lungs. The vets never could find anything wrong.

Moved to a different state and it stopped. Asked the vet here about it, and he said that allergies in pets are not uncommon.

It's a possibility, anyway.
posted by mudpuppie at 6:20 PM on January 14, 2005

My 2 cats recently had simultaneous, week-long bouts of sneezing - the sneezing has since disappeared, but my wife and I are reasonably sure that the problem comes from feline herpes. We took the cats home over the holidays, and apparently one of my sister's cats has it. We plan on taking our guys to the vet this week to get an official diagnosis - but WE ARE NOT ASHAMED.
posted by sluggo at 7:37 AM on January 15, 2005

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