Introduction | Causes & Prevention | Symptoms & Signs | Diagnosis & Test | Treatment Options

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Introduction

Bronchitis refers to the inflammation and irritation of one or more of the large upper airways, known as bronchi, and sometimes the trachea, which is commonly called the "wind pipe." Bronchitis in cats can be acute or chronic in nature.

How Bronchitis Affects Cats

Coughing is the hallmark of bronchitis in cats. Affected cats usually have a dry, hacking and gagging cough which owners often misinterpret as attempts at vomiting or expelling hairballs. The cough can progressively become wet and productive. Cats with bronchitis tend to hunch down and stretch out their necks when they cough. Extreme coughing episodes can be associated with retching, vomiting and sneezing. Many cats with bronchial disease are lethargic and have decreased activity levels. Signs of feline bronchitis can also include sneezing, runny nose, lack of appetite, lethargy, weight loss, fever and ocular discharge.

Causes & Prevention

Causes of Bronchitis in Cats

Cats typically develop bronchitis due to hypersensitivity reactions, viruses, bacteria or parasites, although the precise causes are not well understood in cats. Whatever the underlying cause, the tissues lining the throat, trachea and bronchi become irritated and inflamed. Cats cough in an attempt to expel the irritant from the airways, but this normally leads to even more bronchial irritation. The condition gradually worsens if the underlying cause of the bronchitis is not addressed.

Preventing Bronchitis in Cats

The best way to prevent feline bronchitis is to avoid contact with the predisposing allergens or microorganisms.

Special Notes

When a cat develops bronchitis, the only way to resolve the condition is to determine and address the underlying cause. Any number of diagnostic tools can be used in this effort, and there are a number of therapies that can help manage the symptoms of bronchitis. Bronchitis can become life threatening if untreated. Continual coughing can cause permanent damage to upper airway tissues. Excessive coughing may also interfere with a cat's ability to eat properly. Bronchitis can damage a cat's immune system over time and predispose the animal to secondary bacterial and viral infections. Successful treatments for bronchitis are possible if the cause of the bronchitis is directly addressed.

Symptoms & Signs

Bronchitis refers to the inflammation of one or more of the large upper airways and sometimes the trachea, commonly called the "wind pipe." It can present acutely or be chronic in nature.

Symptoms of Bronchitis in Cats

Cats do not commonly cough. When they do, owners should look for an underlying reason. Coughing is the hallmark of tracheobronchial irritation in cats and other animals. Affected cats usually have a dry, hacking and gagging cough, which owners often misinterpret as attempts at vomiting or expelling hairballs. In severe cases, the cough may become "wet" and congestive. Cats tend to have a specific and curious stance when they have bronchial coughs. They hunch down into a squatting position and stretch their necks out while they cough. Some cat owners report hearing a wheezing noise while their cat coughs. Cats with bronchitis usually cough when exhaling. Extreme coughing episodes can be associated with retching, vomiting and sneezing. Many cats with bronchial disease are lethargic and have decreased activity levels. Coughing episodes frequently come and go, and can become progressively worse over time. Feline bronchitis that is associated with a virus or bacterial cause will often have additional upper respiratory symptoms as well. These signs can include sneezing, runny nose, lack of appetite, fever and ocular discharge. Bronchitis caused by feline parasites may be associated with pronounced weight loss and lethargy.

Diagnosis & Tests

Feline bronchitis refers to inflammation of the trachea and large upper airways. It can be caused by a number of things, especially bacterial and viral infections. Diagnosis often involves several tests to determine the underlying cause of the condition. The cat's symptoms and history are important considerations for bronchitis diagnosis.

Diagnosing Bronchitis in Cats

The veterinary physical examination and history are essential in establishing a presumptive diagnosis of bronchial disease in cats. The remaining diagnostic procedures will be focused on finding the primary underlying cause of the upper airway irritation. A complete blood test, serum chemistry panel, urinalysis and fecal screening for parasites are common baseline tests in the diagnosis of causes of feline bronchitis. Blood tests can help identify underlying medical conditions such as feline leukemia or feline immunodeficiency virus which could adversely affect the cat's immune system and predispose it to bronchial infection. Heartworm tests also are normally performed in endemic areas when chest radiographs suggest pulmonary vascular disease or if the cat is both coughing and vomiting. While feline lungworms are rare in the United States, some veterinarians may want to test for this parasite as well.
Airway sampling can be done under sedation or general anesthesia through transtracheal wash or bronchoalveolar lavage. Thoracic radiographs are helpful to assess the health of lung tissue as well. Arterial blood gas measurements can be taken if severe respiratory distress is present, although this is uncommon.

Treatment Options

Treating respiratory distress in cats requires immediate and successful minimization of environmental and situational stress – even before the cause of bronchitis has been determined. Once the cause of bronchitis is identified, appropriate treatment protocols can be considered.

Treating Feline Bronchitis

When a cat develops bronchitis, the only way to resolve the condition is to determine and treat the underlying cause. Any number of diagnostic tools can be used in this effort, and there are a number of therapies that can help manage the symptoms of bronchitis as well. Any respiratory disease in cats should initially be swiftly addressed with stress management. This includes providing a quiet, cool, comfortable and safe environment with excellent nutritional support and supplemental oxygen if necessary. Viral bronchitis in cats can be treated with general supportive care and usually resolves within 7 to 14 days. Antibiotics are used quite effectively to treat cats suffering from bronchitis caused by bacterial pathogens. Cats with parasitic respiratory infections will need individualized treatments. Lungworms can be treated using anti-parasitic medications, but heartworms in cats are not so easily treated. When bronchitis is caused by a chronic feline asthma condition, the asthma will need to be treated to resolve the bronchitis. Treating asthma in cats is not always easy because the asthmatic trigger can be difficult to pinpoint. During periods where the asthma becomes severe, anti-inflammatory medications and steroids may be helpful to control the condition.

Feline bronchitis can be life-threatening if untreated. Continual coughing can cause permanent damage to upper airway tissues. Excessive coughing may also interfere with a cat's ability to eat properly. Bronchitis can damage a cat's immune system over time and predispose the animal to secondary bacterial and viral infections.

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