cat bronchitis symptoms

Key takeaway

Bronchitis in cats is the result of an inflammation in the lower airway. Symptoms of bronchitis include a dry, hacking cough, open mouth breathing, panting, whistling or wheezing sounds, lethargy, and rapid breathing. Bronchitis can be acute or chronic, and may require veterinary diagnosis and treatment. 

We’ve all dealt with bronchitis before. You have painful, dry coughing fits and a sore throat. Your body aches and you find it impossible to leave the bed. Bronchitis is the worst– but did you know that your cat can get bronchitis, too?

Just like humans, your kitty can also have the unfortunate sickness that is bronchitis. And just like humans, your kitty can also have the same painful, dry coughing fits. Bronchitis can be very excruciating for your feline friend, so it’s important to be aware of the various cat bronchitis symptoms so that you can catch it as quickly as it comes.

In this blog post, we’ll be touching on the potential causes of bronchitis in cats, symptoms, how to treat cat bronchitis, and more. Continue reading the entire article from start to finish to find out more about cat bronchitis, or use the links below to skip to a section of your choice.

What is Bronchitis?

Bronchitis in cats is due to an inflammation of the lower airway, which hinders your cat’s ability to bring oxygen into the alveoli to distribute to the rest of the body. The inflammation of the bronchi walls can cause the airways to become obstructed by mucus, which leads to your cat’s coughing and wheezing.

Bronchitis in cats is due to an inflammation of the lower airway

Cat bronchitis can either be acute or chronic. Acute bronchitis means it exists for a shorter amount of time and the changes in your cat’s airways due to the bronchitis may be reversible. Chronic bronchitis means it lasts for a longer amount of time, typically around 2-3 months. Chronic bronchitis can cause irreversible changes to your cat’s airways.

cat bronchitis can be acute or chronic

What Causes Bronchitis in Cats?

The underlying cause of bronchitis can be difficult to determine, as there are a number of factors that may contribute to this health condition. Some potential causes of bronchitis in cats include:

  • Parasites, such as heartworms and lungworms
  • Inhalation of irritants, such as cigarette smoke, perfume, and air fresheners
  • Hypersensitivity disorders, or cat skin allergies
  • Bacterial infections

Bronchitis can also be a co-occurring condition with asthma. Both asthma and bronchitis are most common in cats between 2 to 8 years old. Overweight cats are also more likely to develop bronchitis as they’re more prone to systemic inflammation. Dental disease can also put a cat more at risk of bronchitis because bacteria can travel from the mouth to the lungs and cause a secondary infection.

asthma and bronchitis are most common in cats 2 to 8 years old

Symptoms of Bronchitis in Cats

There are various cat bronchitis symptoms that you should be aware of. Bronchitis in cats is a serious health condition, so if you notice your cat exhibiting any of the below symptoms, you should contact your vet immediately. Many of these symptoms are also similar to other health conditions, such as heart failure, heartworm disease, and pneumonia, so it’s important to see your vet as soon as possible. It’s crucial to catch bronchitis early on in your cat, before it has a chance to get any worse.

Some of the most common cat bronchitis symptoms include:

  • Dry, hacking cough, which can be cyclical or constant
  • Open mouth breathing, which mostly occurs in severe cases after physical exertion
  • Panting
  • A whistling or wheezing sound
  • Lethargy
  • Sticking neck out while squatting
  • Rapid breathing, which means more than 40 breaths per minute

Diagnosing Bronchitis in Cats

You should take your cat to the vet right away if any of the above symptoms are present. Your vet will be able to run tests to rule out other health conditions and identify the primary cause of your cat’s illness. 

To diagnose bronchitis in your cat, your vet may:

  • Listen to your cat's heart and lungs to determine if there are abnormalities in the airway: The first thing your vet will likely do when you bring your cat in is listen to their heart and lungs. Any abnormalities can be heard with a stethoscope.
  • Order x-rays to look at your cat’s chest: Once your vet has listened to your cat’s lung and heart and detected any abnormalities, they will then likely take an x-ray of your cat’s chest to look for any changes that may indicate bronchitis. A radiograph will help rule out other lung and heart diseases, like feline heartworm disease, that could be causing their symptoms.
  • Order blood work to look at your cat's white blood cells: Your vet will also likely order blood work to get a better look at your cat’s white blood cells. A heartworm test is typically done on any cat with coughing symptoms, and is often done along with a feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus test.
  • Order a stool sample to look for lungworms: Your vet will also probably order a stool sample, which will test the cat’s feces for the presence of larvae. Multiple stool samples may be required as it can take over a month for the larvae to pass through a cat and be detected in a stool sample. 
  • Specialized tests may include a bronchoscopy or a wash of your cat's airway system: A bronchoscopy is a procedure done under anesthesia that allows a vet to see the airways of a cat with a small fiber optic scope. During this procedure, samples of the mucus and cells lining the airway may be taken so they can be cultured and examined further under a microscope. A tracheal lavage may also be performed, which is when a vet puts a small catheter in a specific area of the lungs and a small amount of fluid is flushed into the area and then immediately suctioned out. The fluid that comes out will contain mucus and cells that can be cultured and further examined.

Bronchitis in Cats: Frequently Asked Questions

Will cat bronchitis go away on its own?

Cat bronchitis must be treated, as it cannot go away on its own. Cat bronchitis can be acute, meaning it lasts for a short amount of time, or chronic, meaning it lasts for up to several months. But regardless of what type of bronchitis your kitty has, it’s important to bring them to the vet as soon as you see symptoms so you can get them treated before the bronchitis has irreversible effects. You’re always better off being safe rather than sorry and consulting with your vet right away.

How do I know if my cat has bronchitis?

You will know if your cat has bronchitis if they exhibit any of the following symptoms: a dry cough, open mouth breathing, panting, wheezing, lethargy, or rapid breathing. However, these symptoms are not unique to bronchitis and can be similar to other health conditions, so you should bring them to the vet right away so they can identify exactly what’s wrong.

How do you treat bronchitis in cats?

Treating bronchitis in cats ultimately depends on the root cause of it, but treatment will often include some type of medication and environmental changes. For example, if your cat’s bronchitis is caused by parasites, they will likely be given a very different medication than if the bronchitis is caused by a bacterial infection. Your vet will have the best idea of how to go about treating your cat’s bronchitis.

Medications given to your cat to treat bronchitis can include bronchodilators or oral/inhaled corticosteroids, which will help to open up the cat’s airway and reduce inflammation, respectively. Possible side effects of these medications can include increased appetite, increased thirst and urination, and anxiety.

Your vet will also probably recommend making environmental changes by reducing your cat’s exposure to irritating substances that may be in your house, like hair spray, cleaning products, dust, and smoke. Because cats with bronchitis have sensitive airways, being exposed to these substances will make their symptoms worse.

Using air purifiers in your home can help to reduce airborne allergies that may be triggering your cat’s bronchitis symptoms. Using steam from a hot shower can also help your cat cough. If your cat has bronchitis due to being overweight, your vet may recommend a weight loss plan or specialized diet. But overall, if your cat is suffering from bronchitis, it's important that they get proper rest and hygiene so they can make a speedy recovery.

Can you catch bronchitis from your cat?

Fortunately, you cannot catch bronchitis from your cat. The viruses that give animals illnesses are very different from the viruses that give humans illnesses, making it impossible to get sick from your cat.

Final Notes

We all know how frustrating and painful having bronchitis is. Now imagine how difficult having bronchitis must be for your kitty, who can’t just take cough syrup and call it a day. Your cat with bronchitis relies on you to get them the treatment they need to get better, which is why it’s so important to be aware of feline bronchitis  symptoms so that you can catch it as early on as possible.

If you notice your cat has been suffering from coughing fits and wheezing and suspect it may be bronchitis, you should bring them to the vet immediately. And if you can’t physically bring your cat to the vet, you can use Dutch.com to bring the vet to you.

Dutch.com is an online, telehealth service that allows pet owners to connect to licensed veterinarians right from home. Dutch-affiliated vets are highly trained to help with various cat health situations, such as diagnosing an itchy cat, prescribing treatment for cat diarrhea, or a cat ear infection. No matter what your cat is suffering from, Dutch-affiliated vets are here to help you get them the care they need to get better.

All you have to do is sign up online, complete a questionnaire detailing your cat’s condition, and you’ll be connected with a Dutch-affiliated vet within 24 hours. The vet will tell you what the diagnosis of your kitty’s sickness is and if any treatment is available. If they do prescribe you a treatment, you’ll get it delivered right to your front door within 7 days.

Dutch.com is a convenient and efficient way for pet owners to get the pet care they need in as little time as possible.