QUESTION: My six-year-old cat, Sooty, has been diagnosed with asthma by his regular vet. Are there any natural remedies that can help?
M.M., via email
ANSWER: A common condition in cats, feline asthma is similar to asthma in humans, with symptoms such as labored breathing, wheezing and coughing.
Nobody knows what causes asthma, but there is some evidence to suggest it could be inherited. Holistic vets also believe there are common asthma triggers like pollen, toxic fumes, chemical odors and emotional stress.
Symptoms and diagnosis
During a severe asthma attack, which is an emergency, your cat may exhibit pronounced difficulty breathing and take rapid, shallow breaths, or he may breathe with his mouth open. You may find your cat crouched with his neck extended. If you notice his tongue getting blue, his condition is very serious and he needs to see a vet immediately.
On a day-to-day basis, asthmatic cats like Sooty may cough on and off and tire easily after slight exertion. You may be able to hear a whistling noise like a wheeze if you place your ear close to his neck or chest.
There are no laboratory findings or symptoms that are specific to asthma; it is therefore a diagnosis of exclusion. Your vet has to rule out other possible causes for symptoms by taking X-rays and observing the response to treatment with steroids and bronchodilators given orally or via inhalers.
Cats with heart disease, pneumonia, lungworm or lung cancer can all exhibit the same symptoms as asthma.
The usual treatment for feline asthma is steroids, given in tablet form at high doses for a lifetime. The drugs can be effective and life saving in an emergency asthma attack, but they're not ideal for long-term treatment as they come with
a long list of side-effects. Inhaled steroids are less dangerous, but not all cats like using inhalers. If a cat has occasional attacks, inhaled bronchodilators (drugs that increase airflow to the lungs) will ease symptoms.
In an emergency, your cat will be admitted as an inpatient for oxygen therapy, steroid injections and sometimes even sedation to alleviate the symptoms of an attack.
Diet. Avoid dairy products and raw vegetables as they may contribute to symptoms. Opt for warming and neutral food sources such as chicken, salmon, tuna, lamb, venison and beef.
Good options for grains include white or brown rice, buckwheat, rye, corn and oats. Slightly cooked kale, cabbage, carrots and squash are also excellent foods for asthmatic cats. See the recipe below for an easy-to-make chicken and vegetable broth for cats.
Obese cats are more likely to become asthmatic, so if your cat is overweight, it's a good idea to start a weight-loss plan.
Nutritional supplements. Antioxidants can help the body cope with toxic chemicals in the environment, which may trigger asthma attacks, so supplements of vitamin C and E may be beneficial. Ester C is a patented, non-acidic form of vitamin C suitable for pets (available in powder form). For vitamin E, you can pierce a capsule and squeeze the contents onto your cat's food.
Suggested dosages: Vitamin C, 200 mg/day for an average-sized cat; 125 mg/day for small cats (use less if your cat gets diarrhea, which can be a side-effect). Vitamin E: 100 mg/day for large cats; 50 mg/day for small cats.
Herbs. The traditional Chinese herbal formula Shen Qi Wan or Jin Gui Shen Qi Wan may be helpful for Sooty. It contains the herbs rehmannia and cinnamon, which have a long history of use for treating asthma.
The formula is available to buy online from Kan Herbs as Rehmannia Eight Combination. Although this formula is mainly used for kidney failure, it has proven efficacy in feline asthma.
Suggested dosage: Follow label instructions
Inmortal (Asclepias asperula), a Western herb, is a natural bronchodilator and can help expel mucus from the lungs.
Suggested dosage: Boil ½ tsp of the powdered root in 1 quart (950 mL) of water for 20 minutes to make a strong tea. Give ½ tsp twice daily. Avoid in pregnant animals
Flower essences. Cats generally detest change, so moving to a new home or even just having a visitor over can trigger an asthma attack. Flower essences such as those made by Bach can help them cope. Try the following for Sooty:
Bach's Rescue Remedy For Pets—ideal for animals that are impatient, fearful or have been through a traumatic situation.
Suggested dosage: 3-4 drops orally, or you can apply the liquid onto your cat's ear. In times of stress, do this every 15 minutes until your cat calms down.
Star of Bethlehem—useful for cats that have lost their guardian or a beloved family member.
Suggested dosage: Add 3 drops to your cat's water bowl daily for up to two weeks
Acupressure and massage. Gently rub the area between your cat's shoulder blades back and forth for two minutes using gentle light pressure. According to the traditional Chinese technique of acupressure, there are special points in this area related to the lungs—the main one being BL13. During an asthma attack, you can rub this area in the head-to-tail direction using your fingers and thumbs.
Massaging the outer part of the lower back legs from the knee to the ankle can also be helpful for cats with asthma.
Tips for prevention
Here are some simple steps you can take to minimize potential asthma triggers in your pet's environment.
Make a safe space. Ensure that your cat has a safe refuge to hide away and recover from any stress or alteration in routines. Just an empty cardboard box with soft bedding placed under a bed or in any secluded space will help them calm down and de-stress.
Smoke outside. If you smoke, make sure you don't do it inside your home. Cigarette smoke has been documented to trigger asthma attacks in house cats.
Get an air filter. These filter out airborne particles that can irritate your cat's lungs.
Avoid toxic chemicals in the home. Ditch synthetic cleaning products, air fresheners, insect repellants and cosmetics like hair sprays, deodorants and perfume. Choose natural alternatives whenever possible instead.
Avoid indoor plants and flowers. Try not to have decorative flowers and plants indoors, especially during periods of high pollen count, if your cat is asthmatic.
Watch out for vaccines. Some cats can be very sensitive to vaccinations and develop asthma attacks within days of having their annual shots. The homeopathic remedy Thuja can help mitigate these effects and prevent the asthma attacks. It can be given preemptively after an annual vaccine if your cat is known to have asthma attacks post-vaccination.
You might also want to consider stopping annual vaccinations and using homeopathic nosodes instead, especially if your cat is elderly. For more information on vaccines in pets, see my book, You Can Heal Your Pet.
Chicken broth with vegetables
1 cooked chicken carcass
2½ cups (600 mL) water
Vegetables such as carrots, green beans, zucchini, potato, broccoli, kale, cabbage, squash
1) Place the cooked chicken carcass and water in a large, covered saucepan
2) Add any of the vegetables mentioned above.
3) Bring to a boil, simmer until the vegetables are cooked, then turn off the heat and leave to cool, preferably overnight, with the lid on.
4) Remove the carcass and then strain the liquid into a glass container with a lid. Keep refrigerated and use within three days.
Rohini Sathish, DVM, MSC, MRCVS, MHAO, MCIVT
Dr Sathish is an award-winning holistic vet with 22 years of experience. After training in acupuncture, acupressure, energy healing, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), animal communication and herbal medicine, she now actively integrates conventional veterinary treatments with complementary therapies and is co-author of You Can Heal Your Pet (Hay House UK, 2015). You can contact Dr Sathish at her website: www.rohinisholisticvetcare.com