How to Help a Cat With Emphysema


In felines, emphysema generally results from another lung issue. For cats, the difficulty in getting air out of the lungs that typifies emphysema usually occurs because of allergies or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. While controlling the underlying cause is the best way to help a cat with emphysema, there are other ways you can make Kitty's breathing easier.

Feline Allergies

Various allergens can cause breathing issues in felines, often resulting in asthma. Over time, asthma can progress to emphysema. Early signs of feline respiratory distress due to allergies include:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Lung sounds when breathing
  • Open-mouth breathing.

Substances causing feline allergies run the gamut, but common triggers include:

  • Molds
  • Pollens
  • Food
  • Dust mites
  • Various sprays, including human hair spray or feline flea spray
  • Cat litter with a high dust content.

Identifying the allergen requires veterinary testing, and your vet also will X-ray your cat's lungs to determine the amount of damage. Although reducing or eliminating exposure to the specific allergen helps, in many cases the lung damage has already been done. Treatment that may help severe allergic reactions that develop into emphysema include:

  • Corticosteroids, administered either orally or via injection or through an inhaler. While more expensive and time-consuming, inhaled corticosteroids do not have as many potential side effects as those given internally.
  • Bronchodilators
  • Weight loss may help fat cats breathe more comfortably.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Cats with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also known as chronic bronchitis, may develop emphysema as their COPD slowly progresses. Symptom of COPD include:

  • Chronic coughing
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Blue gums -- due to insufficient oxygen -- as the condition progresses.

COPD treatment is similar in many respects to that of feline respiratory allergies, with the addition of cough suppressants and antibiotics if the cat develops a secondary bacterial infection.


  • It's important to maintain good dental health in your cat if he is diagnosed with COPD or an allergy. Brushing his teeth every day help prevent bacteria from entering his respiratory tract, causing secondary infections. While your cat should have an annual dental cleaning done under anesthesia, if he's suffering from emphysema, it's unlikely your vet will want to risk anesthetizing your pet.

No Smoking

Smoking is unhealthy for people, and breathing in secondary smoke is bad for pets. That's especially true of cats with emphysema. It's not just that the cat inhales secondary cigarette smoke. Tiny smoke particles settle on the cat's fur, which he then ingests through grooming. In addition to lung damage from inhalation, the consumption of these minute particles can lead to internal cancers. If your cat has any type of respiratory illness, do not allow people to smoke in your house, even if the cat's not in that particular room.

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