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Breathing heavy. Is this Asthma?

Species: Cat
Breed: Domestic shorthair
Age: 8-11 years
I have a question about asthma and heavy breathing

General background:
Okara will be 10 years old this fall. I've had her since she was about 5 weeks old. She was a semi-feral rescue from a dog pound.

Medical background:
She had all of her teeth removed at age 2 due to gingivitis. She was spayed around 1 year old. Within a year or so of having her teeth removed, she started breathing heavily when agitated. Her vet said she was likely developing asthma, and it could possibly be related to removing her teeth. She was not thoroughly inspected for this. I just kind of kept an eye on her and she never got any worse. She has never had any other sort of issue that required a vet visit. She is a very tiny cat; most people think she is a kitten upon seeing her for the first time. She is a healthy weight at about 3 1/2 lbs. Her ears are kept clean. Once a week or so, she might vomit up part of her wet food; it usually seems to happen when she is eating too fast, and it only started occurring once she had her teeth removed and was put on wet food. She keeps herself clean. She and my other cat are always kept flea-free with monthly topical treatments. They are both strictly indoor-only cats and have been since I adopted them.

She's a bit prissy to other animals, but she loves humans. Historically, she hated my other cat and avoided him, but over the past few months, she has started playing with him and has become happier. It's actually a bit strange because she just seems "renewed," and it seems like she's happier now with heavier breathing than she was before.

She eats small pellet dry food and one can of wet food per day due to her loss of teeth. She has NOT experienced any sort of appetite loss. She has always had a very healthy coat.

Issue at hand:
As mentioned, she has always breathed kind of heavy since she was 2-3 years old--it kind of sounds like snoring at times. She has no nasal or eye discharge, nor has she ever. When she is laying still, her breathing is silent about half the time, but she still might sound like she's snoring even if she's laying still sometimes. When she is playing with my other cat or otherwise exerting herself, she'll start breathing heavily. Even when she's breathing heavily, she does so through her nose; I've never seen her breathe open-mouthed. Her purring sounds like loud snoring. If she gets upset, like if my other cat tries to rough-house with her, she might start having what seems to be an asthma attack from what I've seen/read online. I don't know if I'm just imagining it because she's breathed heavy for so long, but it seems like her heavy breathing might be becoming more frequent and/or louder over the past couple of months.

Can asthma get worse as a cat gets older?

Does this have anything to do with her having no teeth?

Is there some other disease that could potentially be causing this?

Thank you!

Online vet, Dr. Marie

Dr. Marie replied:

Thanks for giving me so much detail about your cat's situation.

My first comment would be to say that there really isn't much here that would cause me to be terribly concerned. If Okara has asthma and the worst that happens to her is that she has some heavy breathing, then it probably isn't a huge deal for her.

Yes, asthma can get worse over a cat's life...although it doesn't always.

I'm having a hard time connecting the tooth extractions with the asthma though. I'm wondering if there was some miscommunication perhaps with the explanation here.

Most cats with asthma will have coughing fits from time to time. If they are just occasional we don't really do to much. But, if they are prolonged or getting more and more frequent then we will usually recommend medication such as either oral steroids or an inhaler.

There are other things that can cause a cat to have heavy breathing though and some of these can be quite serious. One thing that might be helpful would be to count how many breaths per minute she has when she is in a deep sleep. Write this number down and then count the number again in a few days time. If you find that her breathing is getting faster and faster then this can be a sign that there is a more serious problem such as a heart condition or something like a cancer or infection causing fluid in her lungs.

It's not a bad idea to videotape her heavy breathing episodes as well so that you can monitor whether they are truly getting worse. Showing your vet the videos is a good idea as well.

At this point though, from what you have described, if she is bright, happy and eating well then there is probably not much to worry about.

Hope that helps!

Dr. Marie.

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Disclaimer: Although Dr. Marie is a qualified veterinarian, the information found on this site is not meant to replace the advice of your own veterinarian. and Dr. Marie do not accept any responsibility for any loss, damage, injury, death, or disease which may arise from reliance on information contained on this site. Do not use information found on this site for diagnosing or treating your pet. Anything you read here is for information only.

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Dr. MarieDr. Marie is a veterinarian who practices in a busy animal hospital in Ottawa, Ontario. She created Ask A Vet Question as a resource for good, accurate veterinary advice online. Dr. Marie treats dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rats. She has been a vet since 1999.

Is an online vet visit just as good as a trip to your veterinarian? No! But, many times, asking an online veterinarian a question can help save you money. While Dr. Marie can't officially diagnose your pet or prescribe medications, she can often advise you on whether a vet visit is necessary. You can also ask Dr. Marie for a second opinion on your pet's condition.