VCA Animal Hospitals
Published: May 04, 2012

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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, commonly referred to as COPD, is an irreversible medical condition found in cats and other animals. Veterinarians may alternatively refer to COPD as "chronic bronchitis," according to VCA Animal Hospitals.

COPD refers to the inflammation of certain passageways in the respiratory system, which is sometimes called the pulmonary system. Specifically, the disease affects the lower portion of the respiratory system, an area called the bronchi and bronchioles. These passageways become inflamed and then obstructed, which can have a number of effects on the cat's breathing.

Causes and symptoms of COPD

There is no definitive underlying cause for COPD in cats, but a number of different factors are thought to contribute. Repeated exposure to irritants in the air, such as cigarette smoke, pollens or other allergens may be a potential trigger of COPD. Dental disease has also been linked to COPD, as bacteria from the mouth can travel into the cat's respiratory system.

Chronic coughing is the main symptom of COPD.  The cough is usually dry and harsh and gagging often occurs after the cough.  Many affected cats have general difficulty breathing especially with exercise or activity. As the disease progresses, pet owners may notice that the cat has less energy, and their gums may also become blue due to a lack of oxygen.

COPD in cats tends to affect middle-aged and older felines. Some studies have shown that Siamese cats may be at a higher risk for this disease than other breeds.

Treatment options

While COPD is ultimately irreversible once it begins, cats can still undergo treatment to improve their quality of life with this chronic disorder.  Pet owners may notice that the disease flares up at certain times or seasons, and each of these incidents may require a specific treatment plan.  Cats with COPD may enter severe respiratory distress, which could require oxygen therapy at a veterinary hospital. On a routine daily basis it is likely that your veterinarian may recommend medications to lessen inflammation and to dilate the bronchioles and give the cat a bit more room for air to get through. Cough suppressants can help cats cope with the chronic coughing associated with the disease. Air filters and other environmental changes may help lessen your cat’s exposure to inhaled irritants that may trigger signs of COPD.

Pet owners will also have to address other areas of their cat's health once the animal is diagnosed with COPD. Overweight cats may have difficulty with the disease due to the lack of oxygen, so a weight loss plan might be a good idea for felines on the heavier side. Constant dental maintenance will also be important to ensure bacteria doesn't enter the lungs and cause a reaction.

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