People can trigger asthma attacks in cats, according to veterinarians at a Scottish animal hospital. Feline asthma is a relatively common disease, but vets fear the condition is on the rise as more housecats become indoor-only pets. Feline asthma can be treated with inhaled anti-inflammatory medications, similar to human inhalers, like the device pictured above.
Photograph courtesy Trudell Medical International
Furry housepets—especially felines—have long been blamed for allergies and breathing problems in people.
But now researchers at an animal hospital in Scotland say the discomfort can also work the other way around: Humans can trigger asthma attacks in cats.
Cigarette smoke, human dandruff, household dust, and certain types of litter create inflammation in cats’ airways and worsen asthma, the veterinarians say.
Feline asthma is a common disease, with about 1 in 200 cats suffering from the condition. Symptoms include coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
Cats between the ages of one and five are most likely to develop asthma. Asian breeds, like Siamese cats, are also more prone to the disease.
But Nicki Reed, a veterinarian at the University of Edinburgh’s Hospital for Small Animals, says the overall incident rate of asthma is increasing because more cats are being kept soley indoors.
"We find that bringing asthmatic cats into the hospital here and removing them from the standard triggers, like dust and smoke, can improve their condition," she said.
Feline asthma isn’t a new disease. It was first described in scientific literature more than 90 years ago, says veterinarian Philip Padrid of the Family Pet Animal Hospital in Chicago.
Reed, the University of Edinburgh vet, says that when a coughing cat is brought to the clinic, she must first establish if the cause is an infection, asthma, or something more sinister, like a lung mass.
To do this, Reed usually performs an x-ray, takes a lung fluid sample, and conducts a bronchcoscopy—an examination that uses a flexible microscope inserted into the cat’s airway.
Most of the time, asthma is a mild disease, Reed says. But in some cases cats’ lungs collapse or their ribs fracture due to difficulty breathing. "I think if we can identify [asthmatic cats] quite early and get treatments on board to suppress [their cough], then hopefully we can avoid them coming to such extremes," she said.
Recent advances in the treatment of human asthma are helping sick felines.
"We now do exactly what we do for infants and children," Padrid said. The Chicago-based vet has extensively studied feline asthma and related pulmonary disease in people.
Inhaled anti-inflammatory medications similar to human inhalers can be delivered to cats through an aerosol chamber with a facemask.
Research in the field of human asthma has also suggested a link between bacterial Mycoplasma infection and a worsening of asthmatic symptoms.
Studies done in the United States and Australia have shown the bacteria are present in one-fifth of all lung fluid samples taken from asthmatic cats, Reed said.
Next year Reed plans to study 50 cats with asthma to identify the incidence of this bacterial infection in felines and hopefully improve their treatment.
"We often have asthmatic cats that improve with antibiotics, even though we haven’t diagnosed an infection," she explained. "We’re suspicious [the bacteria are] there. We’re just not finding it, and that’s what I want to try and do."
In the meantime Padrid encourages owners with asthmatic cats to work closely with their veterinarian.
"There’s a lot of support available now to help their cats," he said. "With proper treatment and proper diagnoses, [asthmatic] cats can live a very long healthy life."
Source: National Geographic News, October 25, 2005