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Ask the Doctor March 2019 Issue

Dear Doctor: Breathing difficulties

© Ihor Ivakhno | Bigstock

Persians are gorgeous, but if their face is too “pushed in,” it can cause respiratory problems.

Q. Our Persian kitten still has a few more months to go before turning one year old, but she is already having breathing difficulties. What could be the matter?

Joan Middlestein

Las Vegas, Nevada

Dear Ms. Middlestein,

A. We suspect the clue is in your cat’s breed. Persians and other exotic short-haired cats, including the Himalayan and Burmese varieties, are often bred to have a face with a pushed-in look. That can create nostrils and a windpipe that are too narrow and a head that is too short, paving the way for a breathing disorder. Veterinarians call it brachycephalic airway syndrome. (The term is from the Greek for “short head.”) Dog breeds like the pug and English bulldog are often bred for extreme brachycephalism, too.

Whether in a cat or another animal, it often causes noisy breathing, snoring, and difficulty sleeping. The problem is made worse by a cat’s being overweight.

Most cats are able to live with the condition without any medical intervention — although somewhat uncomfortably. For those cats who have significant difficulty getting enough air, the biggest issue tends to be too-narrow nostrils and fortunately, there’s a solution for that. It’s a day surgery. A veterinary surgeon can widen the nostrils by removing a little bit of tissue from around their edges. That allows more air to pass through. (In dogs, the surgery is somewhat more complicated, involving shortening of the soft palate that gets in the way of breathing when the head is too short.)

By the way, it’s not surprising that you noticed the problem while your cat is still a kitten. It usually manifests itself while a feline is still fairly young.

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