Bronchitis in cats is a serious condition that leads to coughing, breathing problems, inflamed airways and other uncomfortable symptoms. Our West Chester vets explain the illness, symptoms, treatment and prognosis.
What is bronchitis in cats?
When the airways become inflamed, they can become plugged with excessive secretions that impair the body’s ability to pull oxygen into the alveoli to deliver to the rest of the body. Though it’s less common, the bronchi can close down when muscles in the airway’s malls constrict or contract (reactive airway disease).
The swelling and inflammation of a cat’s bronchi walls can cause the airways to become narrowed, obstructed or completely blocked by mucus and other secretions. Bronchitis may be acute (short duration) and related to reversible changes in the airways’ structure, or chronic (long duration, typically more than 2 to 3 months).
Chronic bronchitis in cats is also known as feline asthma, though this can be misleading. Asthma refers to the reversible constriction of muscle within the bronchi walls. Though some cats are diagnosed with true asthma, others have bronchitis caused by other diseases (lung parasites, heartworm disease, or fungal, bacterial or viral infection).
Chronic bronchitis can lead to irreversible, permanent changes in the airways. Young to middle-aged cats are most commonly affected.
What causes bronchitis in cats?
Chronic bronchitis in cats may be caused by parasites (heartworm, lung worms), chronic inhalation of substances that can irritate the airways, hypersensitivity disorders (allergies), or bacterial infections. In many cases, the underlying cause is impossible to identify.
Bronchitis can be a co-occurring condition with asthma.
What are symptoms of bronchitis in cats?
These are some common symptoms of bronchitis in cats:
- Coughing (Cyclic, seasonal or constant)
- Difficulty breathing
- Rapid breathing (more than 40 breaths per minute)
- Breathing that requires excessive effort
- Open-mouth breathing after physical exertion (severe cases)
If you notice any of these signs, your kitty will need immediate medical attention. Because these symptoms are not specific to bronchitis and may also appear with many other diseases such as pleural effusion (fluid in the chest), heart failure, heartworm disease and pneumonia, it’s important to see a vet right away.
How is bronchitis in cats diagnosed?
At LakeCross Veterinary Hospital, our in-house lab allows us to perform a wide range of tests and receive same-day results so we can quickly diagnose your pet’s symptoms and immediately begin treatment. Our internal medicine veterinarians can diagnose lung diseases and other disorders related to your pet’s internal systems.
To diagnose bronchitis in your cat, the vet will typically take an x-ray (chest radiograph) and recommend a Bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) procedure.
This operation allows samples of cells and fluid to be collected from your cat’s lungs, which are then analyzed in our lab to find out what kind of changes are happening to the cells in the lungs. An endoscope may be used to view the bronchial tubes.
If your cat has a parasitic or bacterial infection, tests results will help determine which therapy may be most effective. Because your cat will need anesthesia with the procedure, it may not be possible to perform it if your cat is in critical condition, due to increased risk of death.
How is bronchitis in cats treated?
When it comes to treatment of bronchitis in cats, your vet will need to diagnose and treat any underlying disease (parasitic or bacterial infection). Changes in your cat’s environment may also be required.
Because cats with bronchitis often have sensitive airways, inhaling irritating particles can worsen their condition. We strongly recommend eliminating or minimizing their exposure to sprays (hair spray, perfume, cleaning products, insecticide), dusts (flea powder, kitty litter, carpet fresheners), and smoke from fireplaces or cigarettes.
Oral or inhaled corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce inflammation and swelling of the airway walls. It’s important to note that side effects may include increased appetite, increased thirst and anxiety and increased urination.
There are also broad-spectrum antibiotic treatment options for bronchitis in cats, if bacterial infection is diagnosed. Therapy with mist (nebulization) or steam from a hot shower may help to loosen secretions and make them easier to cough up. Warmth, rest and proper hygiene are also important.
What is the prognosis for bronchitis in cats?
Prognosis is variable. If a cat’s airways are permanently damaged, the disease cannot be cured. However, if your vet can identify an underlying disease and successfully eliminate or treat it, prognosis is excellent.
With proper management of symptoms, signs can typically be controlled and damage to the bronchi can be slowed or stopped. Some cats may have a sudden severe asthma attack that can prove fatal, despite dedicated medical assistance.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.