Asthma in Animals: Yep, They Can Get Asthma, Too
Last updated: March 2023
I’ve long wanted to write an article called Did Dinosaurs Have Asthma? However, I think we probably don’t know enough about lung physiology of a creature we can no longer study, and I’m not tapped into my inner zoologist enough to understand the physiology of bird lungs and such other animals that we might gain some inferences from.
However, many of our furry friends that we may have as pets can also develop asthma, as an article I recently checked out, called Guinea Pigs Can Get Asthma, Too, reminded me.
What we know about animals with asthma
Many, many years ago, I saw the veterinary products on the AeroChamber website. Yes indeed, there are spacers available for cats, dogs and horses—called the AeroKat, AeroDawg, and AeroHippus, respectively — to allow them to use metered-dose inhaler medicines, too (you can see them here, along with the reassurance the mask won’t pull their hair!). Seeing these products was probably my first realization that animals can get asthma. And of course, we’ve all seen that adorable sea otter with asthma by now, too!
What we know about asthma in animals is about the same as what we know about asthma in humans — treatment is similar, too, according to CanadianVeterinarians.net. Like humans, animals with asthma primarily have symptoms of coughing and wheezing, and more rarely, respiratory distress.1 Cats are more likely to develop asthma than dogs, and “it occurs more often in young and middle-aged pets”.1 And yes, asthma symptoms in animals are often triggered by allergies, too!1
How to treat asthma in pets
Once diagnosis of asthma is confirmed — a process in animals done by ruling out other respiratory conditions via chest x-ray1 — treatment is similar as it is for humans. Inhaled steroids, bronchodilators, and antihistamines are available for your pet to take if they have asthma. In fact, according to some sleuthing on online veterinary pharmacies, while other meds are made specifically for pets, metered-dose inhalers look the same as those prescribed to humans, so it’s just the spacer device that’s different!
Just like asthma medicines for humans, medicines are very safe for animals with asthma, too.2 Diagnosis, however, needs to be confirmed, as using salbutamol (albuterol) in cats without asthma can actually — paradoxically! — cause airway inflammation (who knew!).2 This is why it is important to use inhaled steroids in animals alongside bronchodilators, to prevent the development of paradoxical inflammation.2
Of course, emergency treatment should be discussed with your pet’s veterinarian, but includes higher doses of bronchodilators, as well as potentially epinephrine, oxygen, and oral steroids.2 I have seen myself on steroids a few times, and given the normal state of cats and dogs, I do not want to ever witness a poor animal dealing with those side effects!
Asthma in animals is like asthma in humans
Like humans, asthma can be controlled but not cured in our furry friends — as pets are most often asymptomatic between flare-ups, daily and life-long medicine is still useful to keep them that way if they have asthma!
Oh, and back to the guinea pig article — while guinea pigs can get asthma, the responding veterinarian noted that though it was possible, it is far less likely a guinea pig to get asthma than other pets — like cats — noting it is always best to start with a chest x-ray in animals!3
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