Symptoms of Bronchitis in Cats

Symptoms of Bronchitis in Cats

Bronchitis is a serious condition in cats that can lead to coughing, breathing problems, inflamed airways and other symptoms. Our Winston-Salem vets explain how this condition can affect your cat, the symptoms to watch for, and when your cat needs to see a vet.

What is bronchitis in cats?

If your cat's airways become inflamed, they can become plugged with excessive secretions that impair the ability of your pet's body to pull oxygen into the alveoli to deliver to the rest of the body. Though it’s less common, the bronchi can close down when muscles in the airway’s malls constrict or contract (reactive airway disease).

Inflammation and swelling of a cat’s bronchi walls can cause the airways to become narrowed, obstructed or completely blocked by mucus and other secretions. Bronchitis may be acute (short duration) and related to reversible changes in the airways’ structure, or chronic (long duration, typically more than 2 to 3 months).

Chronic bronchitis in cats is sometimes known as feline asthma, although that can be misleading. Asthma refers to the reversible constriction of muscle within the bronchi walls. While some cats are diagnosed with true asthma, others have bronchitis caused by diseases such as lung parasites, heartworm disease, or fungal, bacterial or viral infections.

Chronic bronchitis in cats can lead to irreversible, permanent changes in the animal's airways. Young to middle-aged cats are most commonly affected by this condition.

Bronchitis can be a co-occurring condition with asthma.

What causes bronchitis in cats?

There are a number of causes of chronic bronchitis in cats including parasites (heartworm, lung worms), chronic inhalation of substances that can irritate the airways, hypersensitivity disorders (allergies), or bacterial infections. In many cases, the underlying cause is impossible to identify.

What are the symptoms of bronchitis in cats?

Symptoms of bronchitis in cats should always be taken seriously! If you notice that your cat is displaying any of the symptoms listed below immediate medical attention is required. Because these symptoms are not specific to bronchitis and may also appear with many other diseases such as pleural effusion (fluid in the chest), heart failure, heartworm disease and pneumonia, it’s important to see a vet right away.

  • Coughing (Cyclic, seasonal or constant)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Rapid breathing (more than 40 breaths per minute)
  • Breathing that requires excessive effort
  • Open-mouth breathing after physical exertion (severe cases)

How is bronchitis in cats diagnosed?

At Carolina Veterinary Specialists in Winston-Salem, our in-house lab allows us to perform a wide range of tests and receive same-day results so we can quickly diagnose your pet’s symptoms and immediately begin treatment. Our internal medicine specialists can diagnose lung diseases and other disorders related to your cat’s internal systems.

To diagnose bronchitis in your cat, the vet will typically take an x-ray (chest radiograph) and recommend a Bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) procedure. This process allows samples of cells and fluid to be collected from your cat’s lungs, which can then analyzed in our lab to find out what kind of changes are happening to the cells in the lungs. An endoscope may also be used to view the bronchial tubes.

If your kitty has a parasitic or bacterial infection, test results will help determine which therapy will be most effective in treating your cat's condition.

How is bronchitis in cats treated?

To treat your cat's bronchitis symptoms your vet will need to diagnose and treat the underlying disease (parasitic or bacterial infection). Changes in your cat’s environment may also be necessary.

Since cats with bronchitis often have sensitive airways, inhaling irritating particles can cause their symptoms to be more severe. We strongly recommend eliminating or minimizing their exposure to sprays (hair spray, perfume, cleaning products, insecticide), dusts (flea powder, kitty litter, carpet fresheners), and smoke from cigarettes or fireplaces.

Oral or inhaled corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory drugs that can help to reduce inflammation and swelling of the airway walls. It’s important to note that side effects may include increased appetite, increased thirst and anxiety and increased urination.

There are also broad-spectrum antibiotic treatment options for bronchitis in cats if a bacterial infection is diagnosed. Therapy with mist (nebulization) or steam from a hot shower may help to loosen secretions and make them easier for your cat to cough up. Warmth, rest and proper hygiene are also important for your cat as they recover.

What is the prognosis for bronchitis in cats?

The prognosis for cats with bronchitis is variable. If a cat’s airways are permanently damaged, the disease cannot be cured. However, if your vet can identify an underlying disease and successfully eliminate or treat it, the prognosis is excellent.

With the proper management, symptoms can often be controlled and damage to the bronchi can be slowed or stopped. Some cats may have a sudden severe asthma attack that can prove fatal, despite dedicated medical assistance.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet. 

If your cat is having problems breathing or displaying symptoms of bronchitis contact us right away, or head straight over. Our critical care vets are here 24/7 to care for your pet whenever your primary care vet is unavailable.

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At Carolina Veterinary Specialists, we accept new clients to our specialty services by referral only. Our 24/7 emergency service welcomes all clients.

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