Albuterol Sulfate

By Kayla Hyland, DVM; Rania Gollakner, BS, DVM, MPH

What is albuterol sulfate?

Albuterol sulfate, also known as salbutamol (brand names: Proventil® and Ventolin®), is a bronchodilator medication that relaxes the muscles of the airways and improves breathing. It also relieves the cough associated with asthma. It is most often used in cats, as dogs are rarely affected by true airway constriction.

Its use in cats and dogs to treat asthma and cough caused by bronchoconstriction is “off label” or “extra label”. Many drugs are commonly prescribed for off-label use in veterinary medicine. In these instances, follow your veterinarian’s directions and cautions very carefully as their directions may be significantly different from those on the label.

How do I give my pet albuterol?

Albuterol is most often given to cats as an inhaled treatment via an aerosol canister and approved delivery device (AeroKat®). Before using, shake well and, if possible, administer this medication at room temperature. Pre-load the chamber with a puff of the medication and place the mask snuggly over the muzzle. Allow your pet to breathe 7-10 times before removing the mask. Do not puncture the canister or expose it to heat or fire. This medication should take effect within 1 to 2 hours.

An acclimation and training period may be required before using the delivery device with the medication. Slow introduction to the device with positive rewards such as praise, treats, and petting may encourage its acceptance by your cat.

In dogs, albuterol is administered by mouth as a tablet or oral liquid. In the hospital setting, your veterinarian may also administer this medication in a nebulizer for inhalation.

What if I miss giving my pet the medication?

If you miss a dose, give it when you remember; however, if it is close to time for the next dose, skip the dose you missed, give it at the next scheduled time, and return to the regular dosing schedule. Never give your pet two doses at once or give extra doses.

Are there any potential side effects?

The most common side effects include nervousness, shaking, fast heartbeat, and dizziness. These effects will usually resolve with time. Albuterol may also cause decreased blood potassium levels, and rarely supplementation will be needed. This medication can possibly increase inflammation in the airways of cats, and therefore may be used as a rescue treatment only for your cat.

The effects of this short-acting medication should not last more than 24 hours.

Are there any risk factors for this medication?

Albuterol should not be used by pets that are allergic to it. It should be used with caution in pets with chronic conditions such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure, seizures, or heart disease, including abnormal heart rhythms. It should also be used with caution in pregnant animals. In the later stages of pregnancy, it can inhibit uterine contractions and delay labor.

Are there any drug interactions I should be aware of?

Use caution when using albuterol with the following medications: beta-adrenergic blocking agents, digoxin, diuretics, inhaled anesthetics, other sympathomimetic amines, and tricyclic antidepressants or monoamine oxidase inhibitors.

Be sure to tell your veterinarian about any medications (including vitamins, supplements, or herbal therapies) that your pet is taking.

Is there any monitoring that needs to be done with this medication?

Your veterinarian will monitor your pet to be sure that the medication is working. Occasionally, blood gas tests, electrocardiogram (ECG), blood pressure, and bloodwork to evaluate potassium levels may be necessary.

How do I store albuterol?

The tablet or oral solution should be stored between 2°C and 30°C (35.6°F to 86°F) in a dark and dry place. The aerosol form should be stored at room temperature, between 15°C and 25°C (59°F to 77°F), away from heat, to avoid possible explosion. The liquid solution for nebulization should be stored either at room temperature or in the refrigerator, depending on the concentration of the product. Discard any solutions if they change color.

What should I do in case of emergency?

If you suspect an overdose or an adverse reaction to the medication, call your veterinary office immediately. If they are not available, follow their directions in contacting an emergency facility.

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