Symptoms of Bronchitis in Cats

Bronchitis is a serious health issue which can affect your cat, leading to breathing problems, coughing, inflammation of their airways and other symptoms. Here, our South Wilton vets explain how this condition will affect your cat, the symptoms you should watch for, and when your feline companion will need to see a vet. 

What is bronchitis in cats?

If your cat's airways become inflamed, they may become plugged with excessive secretions which may impair their ability to intake oxygen and distribute it throughout their body, Although it's less common, your cat may also develop reactive airway disease, where your pet's bronchi close down in response to their airways constricting.

Inflammation and swelling 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).

In cats, chronic bronchitis is often called feline asthma, although that moniker may be misleading. Asthma is the reversible constriction of the muscles in their bronchi walls. And while some cats are truly diagnosed with asthma, other have bronchitis which is caused by diseases like heartworm, lung parasites, or infections caused by viruses, bacteria or fungi. 

Chronic bronchitis may cause permanent damage and changes to your pet's airways. This condition most common affects young to middle-aged cats. 

What causes bronchitis in cats?

There are many possible causes of bronchitis within cats, from parasites (including heartworms and lungworms), to chronic inhalation of substances which may irritate their airways, bacterial infections or allergies. Often it is difficult (or even impossible) to identify the cause of your cat's bronchitis.

What are the symptoms of bronchitis in cats?

The symptoms of bronchitis in cats should absolutely always be taken seriously. If your notice your cat displaying any of the following symptoms, bring your cat in to your vet as soon as possible.

  • Wheezing
  • 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)

How is bronchitis in cats diagnosed?

In order to diagnose bronchitis in your cat, a veterinarian will take a chest x-ray and generally recommend a Bronchoalveolar lavage procedure as a follow-up. This process allows the cells in your pet's lung to be collected and analyze to find out what kinds of changes the cells in your cat's lungs are undergoing. A vet may also use an endoscope to view your cat's bronchial tubes. 

If your kitty has a parasitic or bacterial infection, test results will help determine which therapy will be most effective in treating your cat's condition.

How is bronchitis in cats treated?

In order to treat your cat's bronchitis symptoms, your veterinarian will need to diagnose the underlying cause of the condition. Treatment may also require changes to your cat's environment. 

Since cats with bronchitis will often have more sensitive airways than ones without, irritating particles in the air may make their symptoms much more severe. Your vet will strongly recommend minimizing their exposure to sprays, dust and cigarette or fireplace smoke if possible.

Oral or inhaled corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory drugs that can help to 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 antibiotic treatments for bronchitis in cats if the condition is caused by a bacterial infection. Your cat may be assisted in coughing up secretions and buildup with mist or steam to loosen them. Proper hygiene, rest and warmth will all be key for your feline companion as they recover from this condition. 

What is the prognosis for bronchitis in cats?

There is a variable prognosis for cats diagnosed with bronchitis. If your kitty's airways are permanently damaged, this disease can't be cured. But, if your vet is able to identify the underlying cause of this condition and treat it, the prognosis for your pet is excellent. 

With the proper management, symptoms can often 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. 

If your cat is having trouble breathing or is exhibiting symptoms of bronchitis, contact South Wilton Veterinary Group as soon as possible. Our veterinary team is here to help your cat recover form this serious condition. 

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