Tips for Owners with Newly Diagnosed Cats
When my cat Sparrow was about two, she started behaving oddly. She would cough like she had a hairball, but nothing would come up. I tried hairball-control food and over-the-counter remedies, but nothing seemed to produce an actual hairball. Meanwhile, she was coughing more frequently, and starting to have trouble playing because she’d run out of breath quickly.
After searching for information online, I stumbled across a website about feline asthma and thought, “Hey, that sounds like my cat.” A vet visit, blood panel, and X-ray confirmed the diagnosis, and the vet believed she had chronic bronchitis as well. And I worried about what this meant for her future.
It turns out, feline asthma is not the death sentence I was afraid it would be. Sparrow is now 8 years old, happy, and healthy.
Over the years, I’ve gotten some good advice from veterinarians, fellow asthma-cat owners, and others on dealing with a chronically ill pet and treating her asthma and chronic bronchitis. Here are some of the things I wish I’d known when she was first diagnosed:
• Don’t panic
It can be scary to have a pet with a chronic illness for a lot of reasons. We don’t know how they’re feeling, we don’t know if a treatment is causing icky side effects like nausea, we can’t explain to them why they need medication or calm their fears at the vet. Cats instinctively hide symptoms, so by the time they are showing them, they can be worryingly sick.
But panicking just makes all of those things harder to deal with, and your cat will pick up on it – and stress can make their asthma worse. So remember: More veterinarians are becoming well-versed in feline asthma, more treatments are available nowadays, and the Internet has allowed owners of cats with this illness and veterinarians to network in a lot of ways.
Take a deep breath, and know that this is treatable, and cats with asthma can live long, comfortable lives with the proper treatment.
• There are a ton of resources online that will help you be the best advocate for your cat’s health. Use them! That’s what they’re there for.
Some great websites to start out with are Feline Asthma with Fritz the Brave and FelineAsthma.org. The Feline Asthma Inhaled Medication and Feline Asthma & Respiratory Disorders mailing lists also offer fantastic support. These places can help you evaluate new symptoms (although you should always check with your vet as well), find more affordable medications (inhaled steroids can be pricy), and otherwise offer support and help calm your fears.
If you and your vet decide an inhaler is the best treatment for your cat, there are several videos on YouTube on how to train your cat to use the AeroKat or a similar delivery system.
• Different cats need different treatments, and the treatment your cat needs can change.
It’s good to be familiar with a variety of treatments so that you aren’t caught by surprise. At first, Sparrow didn’t need any treatment to keep her asthma under control aside from the occasional steroid shot or a round of bronchodilators. As long as her chronic bronchitis was treated quickly with an antibiotic when it flared up, her asthma remained under control. But her flare-ups became more chronic over the years and she began wheezing constantly, which meant learning to use a steroid inhaler with the AeroKat system.
Other cat owners use an inhaler from day one, utilize a combination of oral and inhaled steroids, rely on bronchodilators, or use a variety of other treatments.
Every cat’s asthma is different, and every cat responds differently to medication. It’s important to work with your vet to find the treatment that is best for your cat. The better controlled your cat’s asthma is, the better their quality of life will be.
• Take a look at changes you can make in your home.
While asthma isn’t caused by allergens, they can trigger an attack or make wheezing worse. Scented litters are the biggest culprit for many cats, as are the clay, cedar, and pine litters. Since kitty is scratching and sniffing in the litter box, an unscented litter made of recycled newspaper, wheat or some other dustless material is less likely to irritate their airways.
Avoid smoking indoors or burning incense; smoke is a major trigger for a lot of cats with breathing difficulties. Scented perfumes, body sprays, room sprays, and other scented items like candles and potpourris can make wheezing worse, so use them sparingly, if at all. Regular dusting and vacuuming help remove allergens from your cat’s environment, and a humidifier may help them breathe a bit easier.
For some cats, it may be worth discussing a diet change with their vet, if a food allergy may be making their asthma worse.
• Relax and give your cat some love.
Learning a pet has a chronic illness that can be stressful for you, but it’s just as stressful or more for your cat. They’re visiting the vet frequently, getting shots or taking new medications, and perhaps seeing some major changes in their environment (to a cat, a litter change can be a big deal!). So give them a lot of love and reassurance that things will be OK; it will help both of you.
Being calm and well-prepared can help you give your cat the best care possible. With your help and a treatment plan developed by your vet or a cat specialist, your cat can live a long, healthy and happy life despite asthma.