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I have a six year old diabetic Devon Rex cat.

Yesterday she was sleeping on the chair next to me. Suddenly she lifted her head and started making a strange huffing noise, almost like she was hyperventilating at an extremely fast pace. At times, she included a small noise that sounded a bit like a quack. She did it three times in a row, and each spell lasted about 15 seconds. Her eyes weren't showing signs of panic, and she looked calm throughout the entire thing and after, but it really freaked me out. Afterwards, she continues laying and looking serene, but continually licks her lips.

She's done this a few times now, but it scares us. She's always healthy other than the diabetes when we take her to the vet. She's never shown signs of allergies, and there's no pattern as to when it happens.

Why is she doing this? What is it? Should I be worried?

  • It sounds like asthma to me - does it sound like this video? youtube.com/watch?v=n7BjCUikm4I (if it is, I'll write an answer about my cat who had asthma) – Zaralynda May 29 '14 at 23:37
  • Is it only while she's on the verge of sleep? It could be Cheyne-Stokes respiration. – jonsca May 30 '14 at 1:06
  • Does she have any cardiac-related problems as a result of the diabetes? The above sounds alarming, but really it just may be indicative of an underlying condition. See if you can video it for the vet to see. – jonsca May 30 '14 at 1:06
  • That's exactly what it sounds like! I didn't realize cats can get asthma. Video would be a great idea, thanks! As far as I'm aware, no cardiac problems, and no other solutions that I've noticed. – littlekellilee May 30 '14 at 1:29
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The best way to get an asthma diagnosis is to take a video of your cat into the vet. Otherwise, you're depending on the cat having an asthma attack while at the vet's office, and that can take several visits.

It is important that you go to the vet for a diagnosis and treatment. According to Richard Goldstein, DVM, associate professor of small animal medicine at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine,

veterinary counsel should be sought at the earliest stage. “If the initial signs of dyspnea [breathing difficulty] are ignored,” he points out, “the condition can rapidly progress to the more severe stage. Then the cat may die unless emergency treatment is immediately obtained.”

There are two types of treatment that I'm aware of, your vet may choose one or both depending on the severity of asthma. Mild cases may just require the use of an inhaler (with a bronchodiliator) for every attack. More severe cases will use a combination of regular inhaler use and systematic steroids (pills).

The goal with the medications is to reduce the swelling in the airways to allow the cat to breathe easier. Inhalers (if tolerated) are generally preferred over pills as steroids can cause a number of side effects in cats when used long term.

When administering an inhaler to a cat, you'll be given a chamber with a mask. The mask fits over the cat's nose and mouth, and the inhaler is seated on the opposite end of the chamber. There's a little flap on the chamber so you can tell that the cat is breathing, and you'll count the number of breaths to ensure that your cat has breathed enough of the drug (either your vet or chamber manufacturer will give you instructions on the number of breaths).

There are two main types of masks that I've seen used with cats: a small children's mask and a special veterinary mask (Aerokat). For our cat, the veterinary mask provided a much better fit (so we were sure he was breathing the medication), but you have to order it online. Children's masks/chambers are available by prescription at any pharmacy.

I've seen folks take a couple of weeks to get their cat used to the inhaler, but my cats are used to me poking them, trimming their nails, etc, and don't protest too much, so we just plunked it on him. If you have a cat who does not tolerate being restrained or messed with, then you will want to take a few weeks to gradually accustom him to it (with lots of treats and praise).

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It could also be the cat coughing up a hairball, or the cat just coughing from dust or a minor kitty respiratory infection. Cat coughs are odd and don't sound like people coughs and are often hard for people to identify.

If it persists and you don't think it is a hairball your cat may have a upper respiratory infection and you can take them to a vet.

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