How to Train Your Cat to Use an Asthma Inhaler

A set of videos break down how to teach your cat to like their asthma inhaler. 

A black cat is treated with an asthma inhaler at the vet
Photo: Shveyn Irina/Shutterstock

By Zazie Todd PhD

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Did you know that you can even train cats to use an asthma inhaler?

Many people still have the erroneous idea that cats can’t be trained. But of course they can and, just like for dogs, reward-based methods are recommended.

Training cats can help them to cope with things like going to the vet. Asthma is fairly common in pet cats, so Sarah Ellis PhD and Linda Ryan (both of International Cat Care) have made a set of videos to demonstrate how to train cats to use an asthma inhaler with your help.

The videos (made with Trudell Animal Health) show you how to train a cat to use an AeroKat Chamber. This is a little mask that fits over the cat’s face with a chamber attached. An inhaler goes at the other end of the chamber to deliver the medication.

The training involves several steps to work through at the cat’s pace, starting with encouraging the cat to explore the equipment and making a positive association by giving treats (and petting if the cat likes it).

The cat is taught that seeing the mask predicts treats, and hearing the hiss sound that the inhaler makes predicts treats too. (Technically, this is called creating a positive Conditioned Emotional Response or CER). 

After that, the cat is lured to put their face into containers of gradually decreasing sizes until they are happy to put their face in the mask. Shaping is then used to slowly increase the length of time the cat holds in place for. The cat is always given a choice.

The main steps of the training plan can be seen in a video that gives an overview of the whole process: 

Even if this is something you don’t need to teach, it’s nice to see the way the training is broken down into gradual steps. 

The second video explains that cats learn by association with events (when one thing predicts another) and also by consequences (if the cat does something, there’s an outcome e.g. a reward). This video is a lovely demonstration of the techniques used to train cats, and the food rewards to use.  

The training is completed by a beautiful tortoiseshell cat called Olive who clearly enjoys the process.

Subsequent videos show each of the training steps in more detail.  

International Cat Care explain that although steroid treatment is common for cats with asthma, the use of an inhaler has fewer side effects than tablets and delivers the drug directly into the cat’s lungs. However, the idea of using an inhaler with your cat is probably difficult to get used to. 

And that’s where the videos come in. They show that if you do the training gradually and proceed at the cat’s pace, your cat can learn to like using the inhaler.

This is great for all of those cats who need it, and it’s an important reminder that cats can be trained. If you have trouble getting your cat to the vet in the first place, check out my guide with eight ways to help your cat go to the vet

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This piece originally appeared in The Pawsitive Post.

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