Masked Cats? Inhalers Deliver Asthma Medication Directly to Lungs

Feline asthma chamber and mask shown here. Photo courtesy of Dr. Rhonda Schulman

When an increasing number of veterinarians started discussing the efficacy of inhalers to treat feline asthma, a common respiratory disorder, Rhonda Schulman, DVM, DACVIM, set out to prove it couldn’t be done. And she proved herself wrong.

Research, published in the Journal of Veterinary Research and funded by the Winn Feline Foundation, was based on a study of 20 cats that accepted doses of a radiopharmaceutical through inhalers. The project was conducted at the University of Illinois on cats that were volunteered by students and colleagues. The cats did not have asthma, but all of them showed some degree of bronchial markings, Schulman said. Some were “wiggly” and needed to be restrained, but all of the cats accepted the anesthetic face masks and inhaled an average of 10 times, which delivered technitium, a benign radiopharmaceutical, directly to the lungs, Schulman explained. Cats were placed in an incubator, and delivery of the technitium was observed through a gamma camera.

“Masks allow medication to go directly to a targeted organ,” Schulman said. The direct delivery could reduce side-effects caused by prednisone and other corticosteroids, such as Diabetes, she added. “I went into this thinking cats wouldn’t tolerate this procedure, and I proved the opposite.”

The medications have not been tested for efficacy, Schulman said, but an increasing number of veterinarians are using inhalants to treat asthma.

“It’s becoming more common as more people try it and find it effective,” said Lynelle Johnson, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, assistant professor at UC-Davis. Johnson, who sees respiratory cases exclusively, says that half her patients now use inhalants to treat asthma.

Schulman, who now practices at the Southern Arizona Veterinary Specialists, has prescribed inhalers for several asthmatic cats, and said that an increasing number of veterinarians are doing so when price is not an obstacle. The cost of oral or injectable treatment goes from pennies per day to several dollars for inhalants, Schulman said.

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