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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Asthma Attacks

First Aid Condition

First aid health condition




Condition Overview

Asthma is very rare in dogs, but common in cats, especially Siamese. It usually comes on slowly, and you may not notice the first few attacks.


Coughing is the main symptom. You'll see your cat crouched low, with their head extended and elbows away from the body. Cats having more serious attacks will visibly struggle to breathe. They'll strain and gasp, and their mouths will hang open. In some cases, their gums will turn purple due to a lack of oxygen.


Information needed.


Asthma attacks are not to be confused with Reverse Sneezing, a relatively harmless condition common in dogs. Diagnosis is made by examining symptoms.


Asthma usually needs to be treated with medications. This is how to handle an attack until you can get your cat to a veterinarian.

  1. Get your pet into a cool place - Cool temperatures reduce the body's need for oxygen.

  2. Get her into a quiet place - Noise and turmoil in the environment speed the metabolism, increasing the body's demand for oxygen. Try to get your pet to a quite place, preferably away from other pets or noisy children.

  3. Give her fresh air - Asthma attacks are usually triggered by something in the environment. It could be cigarette smoke, dust, paint fumes, or many other air contaminants. Whatever the cause, taking your pet out of the area and giving her fresh air to breathe can reduce the severity of the attack. For example, if the attack occurs in a room that you are remodeling, put her in another room and set up a fan on a low speed to keep fresh air flowing.

  4. Get her to the vet - Severe asthma attacks can restrict breathing completely, causing a pet to faint. When that happens, she needs immediate veterinary attention. Try not to touch or hold the pet more than you need to, because physical contact will increase her overall stress and make it harder for her to breathe. Use a pet carrier or box to transport her to the vet.

  5. Help her breathe - Pets who lose consciousness may or may not start breathing on their own. Be prepared to give artificial respiration. Since an asthma attack makes it difficult for pets to exhale, you will have to help with this as well.
    • Close your pet's mouth with your hands
    • Give 2 quick breaths into her nose
    • Watch to see if her chest rises
    • Give 15 - 20 breaths per minute, gently pressing on the chest after each breath to help her exhale
    • Keep breathing for your pet until she starts breathing again on her own or until you reach medical help
    While you are doing artificial respiration, stop every minute or so to check for a heartbeat by either feeling for a pulse inside the rear leg or listening for sounds coming from the chest. If the heart stops beating, you will need to begin CPR.


Cats with asthma will keep having attacks as long as they are exposed to whatever it is they are sensitive to. Every cat is different. Chemical scents from carpet freshener, hair spray, and paint commonly trigger attacks as well as pollen and dust. Once you find the stimulus, if possible, remove it from the environment.

Switch to unscented, dust free litter. Litter boxes with lids can be a problem because they trap dust inside when the cats use them. You will also want to avoid feather toys or pillows.

Run a humidifier during the winter, when the air is dry. Breathing cool, humidified air can significantly reduce the risk of attacks.

Cats with severe asthma sometimes need emergency medication to help them breathe. Inhalers work for people, but not for cats. You veterinarian may give you a prescription for injectable asthma drugs such as epinephrine (EpiPen), aminophylline (Slo-bid), or terbultaline (Brethine). You will be given syringes and learn how to give an injection when your cat needs emergency help.


Nearly all cats with asthma need to take medications several times a week. Drugs such as perdnisolone (prelone), given orally, help fight inflammation in the lungs. At first, your cat may need to take the medications daily, but once the asthma is under control, she may be able to take them as little as once a week.

Dust, pollen, and other airborne particles are among the most common triggers of asthma in cats. Veterinarians often recommend using an air purifier to help with asthmatic conditions.

Show Sources & Contributors +


The First Aid Companion for Dogs And Cats

Publisher: Rodale Inc, 2001

Website: http://www.rodalebooks.com/

Authors: Amy D. Shojai, Shane Bateman DVM

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