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What Causes Dog and Cat Asthma?

How to Find Out What's Causing Your Pet's Asthma

By Kat Sherbo. October 22, 2012 | See Comments

  • expert or vet photo
    vet verified

    PetCareRx Staff Veterinarian

    DVM

What Causes Dog and Cat Asthma?

Asthma in cats and dogs can be caused by a variety of allergens, and every cat and dog can react to different substances. See what the common causes of pet asthma are.

Asthma is usually caused by an allergic reaction to something in your pet’s environment. Like in humans, some pets can be allergic to specific substances that don’t bother other pets.

Some common possible allergens are:

  • tobacco smoke
  • fire smoke
  • car fumes
  • dust (including dust from too-fine kitty litter)
  • certain foods
  • hairsprays

How Asthma Affects Breathing

The small respiratory pathways of your pet’s lungs, called bronchioles, become inflamed when the allergen is inhaled or ingested. The body then produces extra mucous to try to expel the allergen. The combination of inflammation and mucous restricts the lung’s passageways, and makes breathing difficult. 

In severe cases the muscles that surround these airways in the lungs can spasm, in what is called a bronchospasm, and further restrict breathing.

A pet who seems to be having trouble breathing should be taken the veterinarian right away, since a lack of oxygen can cause severe damage, or even death.

The Most At-Risk Groups

Cats get asthma more often than dogs, and all pets between 2 and 8 years old are more prone to asthma than pets of other ages. Siamese and Himalayan cats are more susceptible to asthma than other cat breeds and female cats are more likely to develop asthma than males. Finally, all pets that are overweight or obese are more at risk for asthma.

Finding the Cause of Asthma

Once you're at the veterinarian's office, they'll ask for a list of any possible irritants and changes in your household routine. When did you start using a new dog food? A new cleaning solution? Did you bring a new potted plant inside? Is the kitty litter a new choice? This list will help you and your vet pinpoint the most likely cause of your pet's allergic reaction. 

Infections and Viruses

An infection or a virus can also cause an allergic reaction and asthma in your pet, in which case the infection or virus itself will need to be dealt with in order to stop the asthma attacks. Parasites, like heartworms, in the lungs can cause asthma symptoms.

Whenever you get a new pet or if you know your home will be exposed to new substances--like during a remodeling or spring cleaning--be on the lookout for possible symptoms of asthma. Most veterinarians also recommend having pets on heartworm medication year-round, such as Heartgard for Cats, to protect agains the many symptoms of heartworm.

More on Allergies in Cats and Dogs

Causes of Pruritus in Pets
What Causes Flea Allergy Dermatitis in Dogs

This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice of, or diagnosis or treatment by, your veterinarian with respect to your pet. It has, however, been verified by a licensed veterinarian for accuracy.

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