What Are Other Treatment Options for Cats with Severe Asthma?

CatChannel's veterinary expert, Arnold Plotnick, DVM, shares various treatment methods for asthmatic cats.

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Q: My 14-year-old cat, Tiger, was diagnosed with severe asthma. We have already gone through multiple medications, and nothing has really stabilized it yet. She almost died the other night from a veterinarian prescribing her high doses of cyproheptadine as an appetite stimulant.
She continues to wheeze even though she is on triamcinolone and albuterol. We recently gave her a depo-medrol shot. She barely eats, and she wheezes harder and gags after eating. She breathes through her mouth a lot, and she won’t touch her water. I give her subcutaneous fluids daily. She urinates regularly and has had small bowel movements most days. I plan on giving her flovent as soon as I can get it. Are there any other options to treat my cat’s severe asthma?

Wow, this is a very severe case of asthma. I’m surprised that she got so sick from the cyproheptadine. Cyproheptadine is an antihistamine that has the unusual side effect of making many cats hungry, and it can be helpful in overcoming a poor appetite. I don’t know what kind of reaction she had to it, but the only reaction I’ve ever seen is sleepiness (not surprising, for antihistamines). A few years ago, it had been suggested that cyproheptadine might be helpful in asthma treatments for cats, but subsequent studies have shown the drug to be ineffective for this. It is still useful as an appetite stimulant, however.

The cornerstone of treatments for cats with severe asthma is steroid therapy, and your cat is already on a potent steroid (triamcinolone). If steroids alone are not effective, a bronchodilator can be administered as well. You are already doing that with the albuterol. Depo-medrol is another potent, long-lasting steroid, and the fact that she receives triamcinolone and yet has been given additional steroids via injection is worrisome. Cats are fairly resistant to the negative side effects of steroids, however, excessive use of steroids can cause diabetes in cats, and they can cause a disease called Cushing’s disease.

Cats that don’t respond to oral or injectable steroids might respond to inhaled steroids. Inhaled steroids have an advantage in that the drug is delivered directly to the site where the problem is (the lungs). They also have few systemic side effects because the inhaled molecule is not significantly absorbed into the bloodstream. Bronchodilators are also available in inhaled form and may be useful as adjunct therapy. Trudell Medical International makes a feline aerosol chamber called Aerokat that is designed for administering inhaled medications to cats with severe asthma. Good luck with Tiger.

Arnold Plotnick, DVM

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Reader Comments

irie    International

8/23/2013 12:26:01 PM

hi mi cat mogli -now 13 years - has had asthma since 8 years. first mildly , and we did not even know , that it was asthma, till our vet visited and saw her wheezing. he put her on terbuteline, then 2 years later , she had a severe attack where her mouth was open and she could not breathe at all. we rushed to the vet and he put her on oxygen and gave her a depo shot. i now give her depo shots about once per month,right after she had 2-3 small attacks. vet said ,thats the sign , that she will go into distress. i also bought her a ventulator ,which uses ventolin . once she starts wheezing, i give her 2 min of 2-3 puffs ,then her breathing gets normal again. the ventulator comes from AEROKAT. hope your cat will get better

Gwen    Auburn, AL

7/23/2010 7:17:20 AM

My Cat "MacKenzie" was diagnsed having asthma about a month ago. He is 13 years old. My vet has him on Prednisone 5 mg 1 time a day; Cyproheptadine 4 mg 1/2 tablets 2 times a day and Theophylline 100 mg 1 tablet in the evenings. He is still having attacks...mostly when I give him the medicine because he gets upset. I'm hoping that he will get better soon. Thank you for the article. It lets me know I'm not alone with this situation with my "baby".

Vickie    Wheat Ridge, CO

5/17/2007 3:25:05 PM

At the Cat's Meow Animal Shelter, we have a cat with asthma. The vet we had gave her steroid shots, which controled attacks, but we were concerned about having her on steroids. Our new vet prescribed Theophylline, 100mg., one half pill every evening. Sally Sue has not had an attack for several months. She looks good and acts like a kitten. We feel good knowing she's not on steroids.

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