Special treatment helps a sweet kitty with cat asthma

Formerly a stray, kitty with feline leukemia suffers from chronic asthma but is receiving the treatment she needs at the Sanctuary.
By Christelle L. Del Prete

Sicilly is originally from the Sunshine State of Florida, but at four years old she’s already weathered a few storms in her young life.

She spent her first two years living as a community cat in a trailer park, where she and her feline friends lived happily, with help from a caregiver. But when that person left the cats to fend for themselves, their world was turned upside down. And when it was discovered that Sicilly has feline leukemia virus (FeLV), her options were limited. Add feline asthma to the equation and it’s a good thing Sicilly was brought to Best Friends, where she’s getting the royal treatment — and thriving because of it.

FeLV detected during trap-neuter-return

Community cats (which include stray cats and feral cats) are neighborhood cats without homes, but they are often cared for by people who feed them and look out for them. These cats tend to live in groups called colonies.

When alerted to the troubles facing Sicilly’s colony, a Florida rescue organization began looking for solutions. They included an effort to trap, neuter and then return (TNR) the cats to the trailer park (if another caregiver could be found), or to find homes for the friendly ones in the group. That’s when they discovered that Sicilly has FeLV, a condition that weakens cats’ immune systems and makes them susceptible to secondary infections.

Cats with FeLV require special monitoring and prompt veterinary care if they become sick. And because FeLV is a social disease (that is easily spread from one cat to another through close physical contact), FeLV-positive cats must be kept separate from cats without the virus. That meant that even if a responsible caregiver was found, Sicilly couldn’t go back to live with the other cats in her colony.

Luckily, she wasn’t feral at all, but she was friendly with people. That would make it possible to give her the care she needed.

Learn about cats living with FeLV

Avoiding common ailments

The sweet little Creamsicle-colored cat was brought to Best Friends, which has an entire area of Cat World dedicated to cats with FeLV. After arriving at the Sanctuary, Sicilly stayed pretty healthy. She managed to avoid most of the common ailments that cats with FeLV are susceptible to, such as upper respiratory infections. But then she started coughing.

It sounded like she had a hairball that she just couldn’t cough up — no matter how hard she tried. She’d stick her neck out and cough, and then cough some more. The Best Friends veterinary team tried hairball treatments, then antibiotics when they suspected pneumonia. When that didn’t work, they examined her throat to make sure she didn't have a mass or a tumor lurking there. She didn’t, but her poor throat was inflamed and irritated.

Can cats have asthma?

Best Friends vets thought it might be cat asthma attacks, so they started her on a cat asthma inhaler. Cats can have asthma just like people, and it’s treated in a very similar way. Sicilly was prescribed an inhaler, which resembles a human inhaler with one important difference. It comes with a device that helps her inhale the medicine more comfortably and effectively. It’s an air chamber that puts space between the actual inhaler and Sicilly’s nose, with a piece that fits over her face during the 10 to 15-second procedure.

The medicine worked like magic. Sicilly stopped coughing and began to breathe much easier. While she was a little skittish and unsure about the treatments at first, causing her to back away from the inhaler, they since have become routine and no longer stress her out.

More sunshine than storms

That’s true even when she needs an extra dose, such as when she’s about to visit the vet or go on a sleepover with a Cat World volunteer. The extra stress of climbing into a cat carrier and traveling could bring on an asthma attack. But so far, Sicilly’s treatments have been really effective in helping her to live a normal and happy life.

As anyone with asthma knows, life with a chronic illness isn’t always rosy. But with the right treatment these days, Sicilly is enjoying a lot more sunshine than storms.

Help bring hope and healing to more animals like Sicilly

Photos by Molly Wald