While humans and our canine and feline companions are very different in some ways, it may be surprising how anatomically similar we are.
Many conditions suffered by humans are also found in the dog and cat world. One of these conditions is asthma, which was recently diagnosed in my own cat, Connor.
From abandoned to adored
I adopted Connor in June of 2017. His story is a truly sad one and has made giving him the best life possible even more important to me. Connor was dumped at an animal shelter’s property on a cold winter night by a previous owner. He was then adopted, but then abandoned by that adopter when she moved out of her home. Having spent up to a week in the home alone with no food or water, Connor became extremely dehydrated and emaciated, requiring emergency hospitalization for several days.
The staff at the emergency hospital worked hard to return him to health, and he was eventually brought back to the shelter’s clinic, where I worked at that time, for continued care. This is when I developed a bond with Connor. He is the sweetest cat I have ever met, and I was amazed at the fact that though they had failed him twice in a row, he still wanted to bond with humans.
Before Connor could go up for adoption again, he needed to gain weight. I jumped at the opportunity to foster him—but after having him for about a week, I knew I couldn’t give him up, so I made the decision to adopt him.
Another battle begins
Getting Connor to gain weight was easy. Within a couple months he was at a healthy weight and I thought his troubles were over.
However, Connor began coughing off and on. Initial x-rays showed slight changes in the lungs, but nothing overly concerning.
When evaluating patients with illnesses, doctors choose from an array of available testing to find the answers they need.
Fecal testing is vital in sick and wellness care for pets. By examining stool regularly, veterinarians can monitor for parasites that may not even be causing symptoms. Parasites such as giardia, roundworms and tapeworms can be present for quite some time before symptoms such as diarrhea are present.
Stool testing showed that Connor had a parasite called lungworms, so we treated him with a dewormer and hoped that would cure the cough. But it continued, and by January his cough developed into episodes of hacking, during which he would stretch out and cough forcefully for about ten seconds.
I brought him back to Eastown, where Dr. Neher examined Connor and recommended repeating chest x-rays.
The x-rays taken at that time were worse than prior x-rays. There was congestion in his lungs, and the pattern looked suspicious for asthma.
Asthma is a chronic lung condition that is triggered by hypersensitivities to allergens such as dust. The body reacts to the allergens, causing inflammation of the airways. This makes breathing difficult, leading to wheezing and coughing. If the reaction is severe enough, asthma can be fatal.
Connor’s chest x-rays. The arrows indicate areas of inflammation and congestion
Treatment for asthma varies by patient. Much like humans, cats can be treated with inhaled corticosteroids. Corticosteroids work by reducing the body’s natural immune response and decreasing inflammation. Administering inhaled steroids to cats requires a device called an aerosol chamber. This device contains a mask on one end and a chamber at the other. An inhaler is attached to the chamber, and as the inhaler is depressed, the mask is held over the cat’s nose and mouth for 7-10 breaths to allow for inhalation of the medication.
An aerosol chamber allows for administration of inhaled asthma medications
Getting Connor comfortable with the spacer has been challenging and has required some creativity. But thankfully Connor is a great patient, and though he wiggles, he is becoming more accepting of the treatment.
Asthmatic cats require many special considerations. Anything that could trigger an allergic response must be eliminated as much as possible from the environment. His cat litter must be fragrance- and dust-free, and plug-in air fresheners and strong perfumes must be avoided. We use humidifiers in the home to keep the air from being too dry, as dry air can trigger asthma.
Keeping a close eye
The prognosis for asthmatic cats varies. In most cases asthmatic cats can live long, normal lives if the condition is caught early before permanent damage is done to the lungs.
Should an asthma attack (respiratory distress) occur, asthmatic patients must receive prompt medical treatment, which usually requires emergency respiratory medications and oxygen therapy.
Connor has responded well to the steroids. He runs and plays like a normal cat, and enjoys spending time grooming his feline housemate, Simon.
Regular wellness exams will help ensure that Connor will continue
to enjoy moments like this with his brother, Simon.
Connor will need to be monitored for the rest of his life, and any signs of respiratory distress must be taken very seriously. Regular wellness exams will be vital so that his doctor can listen to his lungs and check his blood, stool and urine to quickly detect any changes that might not be showing externally.
Many conditions, such as kidney disease, can begin long before they are detected. Routine bloodwork will monitor Connor’s kidneys, which could be affected by steroids.
Connor has been failed by humans many times in his life. I have promised him that now when he needs a human more than ever, I will not fail him.
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