Q: For almost a week my cat, Princess, has had coughing spells. Her appetite has not changed. This cat has been sneezing, too. To me, her symptoms sound like asthma — the distinct wheeze and dry, hacking cough. What are the symptoms of asthma in cats?
A: A dry, hacking cough is indeed a typical sign of asthma in cats. So is wheezing. However, the cat’s sneezing doesn’t really fit. Sneezing is an upper respiratory sign, while coughing is a lower respiratory sign.
Asthma is definitely on the list of possibilities; however, an upper respiratory infection that has descended into the lungs is more likely. Bordatella, the bacteria responsible for kennel cough in dogs, can affect cats and cause upper respiratory signs as well as coughing. Infectious bronchitis is also on the list.
Distinguish between infection and asthma in cats; the treatments are opposed. Respiratory infections, both upper and lower, are treated with antibiotics. Asthma in cats is treated with anti-inflammatories and bronchodilators. Giving antibiotics to a cat with asthma does no harm, but it does not help. Giving anti-inflammatories to a cat with an infection, however, can make the infection worse. Your veterinarian will likely offer some tests — blood work, X-rays, etc., — to help distinguish between the two and prescribe therapy. Most cats respond well to proper treatments.