Marsha, from Sonora, has a 7-year-old cat named Tiger with a persistent cough that has become more frequent over the last few weeks. There are times during these coughing episodes when Tiger will hunch his back and seems to hide in certain areas in the house. He also sometimes acts as though it is hard to breathe in between coughs. Could this be allergies?
Cats do indeed have allergies to various substances in the environment and depending on what they are responding to, they will manifest different types of symptoms. Allergies can occur from flea bites, causing them to be rather intensely pruritic (itchy). Cats with flea allergies will chew themselves to the point of damage to the skin especially along the back and in the area above the tail. These cats will have scabbing and often are so good at chewing that they remove most if not all evidence of fleas. Unfortunately, they can and often do remove a lot of their coat and I have even seen some cats that cause abscesses by chewing on themselves.
Cats can also have allergies to particulars. Food allergies can also manifest with intense pruritis although the areas of pruritis will usually differ from those with flea allergies. Food allergy cats will commonly scratch their head and face. Again it can be to the point of destruction of the skin with resultant scabbing and hair loss.
Food allergies in cats can also manifest with vomiting and/or diarrhea. If a cat has an allergy to a particular item contained within its food, a response can occur in the stomach and the small intestine, which causes an irritation with the resultant symptoms. This does not mean, as I’m sure many of you realize, that all cats with vomiting and diarrhea have a food allergy. Food allergies are but one of many disease processes that can lead to vomiting and/or diarrhea.
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Respiratory allergies can also occur in cats. There can be many particles contained within the air that can lead to respiratory symptoms as a result of an allergic response. One of the most common symptoms we will see with these types of allergies is difficulty breathing. Affected cats will have increased respiratory effort as well as increased rate. They may also cough. This sounds a lot like the description given by Marsha concerning her Tiger. This type of an allergic response is given the name feline asthma. Unfortunately, these symptoms are not only associated with asthma. There are other causes for coughing and difficulty breathing.
The respiratory system in cats, as well as all the systems we name in their little bodies, has only a limited number of responses or symptoms it can manifest to with an almost infinite number of diseases affecting it. Because of this, it becomes obvious that a trip to Tiger’s veterinarian is in order.
With various diagnostic tools including radiographs and perhaps some blood work, we can begin to diagnose his problem. It may be that he has infectious bronchitis from a viral or bacterial infection or maybe pneumonia caused also by a virus or bacteria. There is a parasitic infection caused by lungworms that can lead to the symptoms shown by Tiger. Congestive heart failure can cause fluid build up in the chest in cats causing respiratory problems. Any disease that affects the respiratory system, the bronchial tubes and lungs, can cause the described symptoms.
Hopefully with a physical examination and appropriate diagnostics, Tiger’s condition can be discovered. If Tiger indeed is suffering from feline asthma, there are effective treatments available and we are usually quite successful in treating this disease.
On another note, this is my final column for 2015 and I wanted to wish all of my readers a very Merry Christmas and a happy 2016. I will look forward to helping as many of you as I can with your companions’ health concerns and am very thankful that I have been blessed to have such a wonderful career working with people and their special bonds with their animal pals!
Jeff Kahler is a veterinarian in Modesto. Questions can be submitted to Your Pet in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.