Why is my cat wheezing?

Here are some reasons why your cat is wheezing. I would not normally write about medical issues because the veterinarian’s websites are tailored exactly for that sort of article but I have good reference books and therefore, despite not being medically qualified I can, I feel, provide a reasonable answer and some pointers. In the era of the coronavirus, some self-diagnosis of feline symptoms can help and, in any case, it is arguably the way veterinary care is going by which I mean remote triage.

Siamese cat wheezing. Siamese are predisposed to this condition.
Siamese cat wheezing. Siamese are predisposed to this condition. Video screenshot.
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Wheezing is a whistling sound when a cat breathes forcefully both in and out. It indicates a narrowing of the bronchial tubes. A veterinarian will use a stethoscope to pick up deep-seated wheezes. In general, the causes include: feline asthma, lung worms, heart worms, tumours or growths in the bronchial tubes.

A sudden coughing attack combined with wheezing and difficulty breathing suggests feline asthma. Coughing is self-perpetuating because coughing irritates the bronchial tubes, drying them out and the mucous lining. Coughing is a reflex initiated by an irritant in the bronchial tubes. It may be smoke, chemicals, foreign objects, dust and food particles, for example. It might be a tight collar or growths in the bronchial tubes.

Allergic reaction

A sudden swelling of the face, ears, lips and eyelids can be caused by a hive-like allergic reaction called urticaria. The head may look out of proportion to the body. The eyes may be swollen shut. It might be caused by an inhalation allergy or a food allergy or, indeed, by bites and stings. One of the symptoms may be wheezing and including diarrhoea, vomiting and respiratory distress.

Feline asthma-feline allergic bronchitis

This is caused by a hypersensitivity to environmental allergens. It resembles bronchial asthma in people. It affects about 1% of all domestic cats. Siamese cats are slightly predisposed to it. Some cats show severe respiratory distress and others have a chronic history of coughing and wheezing. There may be a requirement for urgent veterinary care. An acute attack begins with difficulty breathing followed by wheezing and coughing. The cat may sit with the shoulders hunched or they lie down with mouth open while straining to breathe (see photo above). The gums may be blue due to lack of oxygen. This is called cyanosis. Two other conditions produce a similar reaction namely pleural effusion and pulmonary oedema.

Cat, Alvin, developed asthma through passive smoking
Cat, Alvin, developed asthma through passive smoking. Photo: The Scottish Sun.

Urgent and immediate veterinary care is required to ease respiratory distress. Sometimes veterinarians treat this condition with epinephrine and sometimes cortisones and bronchodilators are used during an acute attack. The doctors say that antihistamines and cough suppressants should not be used because they may interfere with the cat’s natural ability to clear secretions. Hospitalisation of asthmatic cats may be required to remove them from the allergens in the environment and to sedate them. They may be given supplemental oxygen.

As mentioned, I’m not a veterinarian. I am simply referring to reference books. I hope that these notes provide you with a pointer as to what to do next.

Video

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