In the beginning........
The cat was coughing. "Oh, it's just a Hairball" I thought. So I went to the pet store, bought a tube of the hairball rememdy I remember my rabbits loving, dosed the cat. Well, I rubbed it on his paws (which makes them lick it off). Next day, another session of coughing. "Big Hairball" I thought. More meds. The next few days the coughing slowed, so I figured that was the solution. A few times over the next months he would hack, I would reach for the hairball meds, and all would be well. Then one spring the hacking got worse. I took him to a vet, and the vet listened to me, and pronounced....... "Hairball". Hrmmmmmm but ok, the vet said so! Things went on for a couple more years with sessions of coughing. Then that day came.......when the coughing did not stop. Considering I had only seen two hairballs out of the cat in 5 years, I started to suspect something else was wrong. One morning at three AM neither of us was getting any sleep. I realized at some point he sounded like he was having an asthma attack and at 3am out of desperation I gave him a puff of albuterol. Relief for both of us! Next day I went on the internet and confirmed that yes, cats do get asthma. Now what? Couldn't take him to the same vet........
By now I had read everything I could get my paws on about Feline Asthma , watched a couple of videos on youtube of a cat in an asthma attack, and was positive that was what mine was going through. So I hit the yellow pages.
I immediatly ran into a wall. "Hi, I have a cat I think has asthma and would like to get him brought in". "Are you a patient?". "Not yet". "Well, we have to run a battery of tests because he has never been here before".
*Bangs head on wall*. Come on, I need to have my cat tested for 1 billion things unrelated to the problem I was facing NOW? Next vet......same thing. And again. Even the vet my dog went to wanted to run a large battery of tests that had nothing to do with him hacking. Meanwhile my poor cat was getting puffed with human asthma medicine and I was feeling guilty about it.
So FINALLY, a last call....."I think my cat has asthma. Can you PLEASE accept him as a new patient without subjecting him to a million tests?". "Indoor or outdoor cat?" (no one else asked that). "Indoor only, not allowed outside". "Up on his shots?" "Long story short, yes". "What's going on with him?" (insert story). "Hold please". *cheesy music*. "Ok, the vet said he'll see him. Bring him in tomorrow".
Yipeeeeeee! I like this vet already!
So I take him in, yowling and unhappy in his carrier. We're quickly escorted into an exam room where he promptly hides in a large cat tree in the corner. We both wait......all I see are two yellow eyes peering out. After about 15 minutes, a nice vet comes in. I was impressed when he did not immediatly grab for the cat, but rather asked me to tell him what was going on. I repeated my story, including the last vet saying hairball but I hardly ever saw hairballs. The vet then gently snags the cat out of his hiding spot after saying that he could take an xray to see if it was asthma. Lo and behold the cat starts having an attack right there! The vet watched him for a little bit, listened to his lungs, and said ok, I do not even need to do an xray if you are comfortable with the diagnosis being asthma-these are classic symptoms.
My wallet was much relieved!
He gave me choices, we could go on an oral medicine, we could try a steroid shot, or we could go into a regime of inhaled meds. He said if the case was mild, the steroid shot would work quickly and my cat may be able to be maintained on a couple of those a year.
Steroid shot it is! The nice assistant came in and poked the kitty, who barely seemed to notice the sting.
The vet told me that the albuterol was ok to give him to help during an attack, but if the shot had no noticeable effect in 48 hours I needed to come by and they would start him on an oral course of treatment.
I saw an almost immediate improvement! When the office called the next day to check on him, I asked the vet why the first one did not even consider asthma-he round about said that not all vets at that point believed cats had asthma... and that usually it was hairballs that caused hacking.
Well, after a few days I had a much happier kitty! This lasted a few more months, and then HACK. Back to the vet we went for another shot.
But then it happened less than three months after the last shot......HACK. HACK. Oh boy........
I called the vet and asked about options. He suggested going to an inhaled treatment. I asked about prices and almost fell through the floor! So I started surfing the web.
I came across a great yahoo group called Felineasthma. In the documents was information about how to obtain the inhaling medicines at more reasonable prices. I joined the group and read hundreds of posts before deciding to go the "around the vet" route.
WARNING: I'm not recommending anyone not take their cat to the vet! Since I already had the diagnoses, and I have a lot of experience caring for animals, I was comfortable with this route. If you are not, please stick with the vet!
I did call the vet and ask his opinion on this course of treatment...I received the standard "don't buy things off the internet" warning but he did confirm that it was a viable plan of action. Since my cat wasn't struggling to breathe constantly, I did not need to go the oral route first (in bad cases, more immediate action is needed as the flovent takes time to build up in a cats system).
After a few weeks of hit or miss with dosages, my kitty gets twice a day puffs of Flovent 125 ( I admit I skip some doses in a perhaps misguided attempt to not overmedicate him) using an Aerokat inhaler that was generously provided to me by an angel in the group who had lost her kitty. I keep a canister of Albuterol on hand just in case, and have had to use it when the pollen was bad or when there was a nastly outbreak of mold on a fence outside of my window. Now I have a happy breathing cat!
I finally had the pleasure (ugh) of hearing my cat actually hack up a hairball. The sound of that was completely different from his asthma attack! With the hairball it was a juicier meaty stomach glurk until the surprise present. He also did not look distressed but rather disgusted and ran away and hid when done. During the asthma attack, it was a dry lung sound with his tongue sticking out , ears back, and a very hunched up distressed look on his face. He did not try to run or hide after it like he did with the hairball. After hearing both, the difference was very clear. When I picked him up during the asthma attack he did not struggle with me at all.......when I snagged him to put him on tile during the hairball I got a bit of claw.
If I could go back, I would have found a way to record the "attack" and show it to the first vet. That way there'd be no guessing or offhand dismassal, and maybe my cat could now be on less meds. I was lucky that my cat had an attack in front of the new vet so he could see it first hand. I also would have insisted on an xray of his lungs the first time to check and see if there was any inflamation instead of relying on a guess.
So far we've been doing well with controlling the asthma. I have no hope of taking him completely off the meds after a couple of missed doses (due to me out of town) led to a mild attack, but I can handle treating him that way I am now. I highly recommend the great group of people on yahoo (felineasthma) to anyone going through this!