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Dyspnea in Cats
It is unusual to see a cat pant or breathe through his mouth, but it does occur when a cat is having trouble breathing (dyspnea). A panting cat does not look that different from a panting dog. Often, the cat will stand or crouch with his elbows bent away from his chest and with head and neck stretched out.
There are many different reasons a cat may have trouble breathing. This article will focus on fluid in the chest (hydrothorax) and enlarged heart (cardiomyopathy). There is an associated article on asthma and heartworm disease, which affect the lungs directly.
What to Watch For
Fluid in the chest or hydrothorax refers to the accumulation of fluid in the space between the lungs and ribs (pleural cavity). Common causes for hydrothorax include Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP), ruptured thoracic duct, and congestive heart failure due to cardiomyopathy.
There is little to be done at home when your cat has trouble breathing. He needs to get to your veterinarian as soon as possible. During transport:
If your cat is in distress, your veterinarian will put your cat on oxygen right away and wait for your cat to calm down. The veterinarian will then conduct a thorough physical exam, paying special attention to heart and lung sounds. Chest X-rays are often necessary.
If there is evidence of fluid accumulation in the chest, the fluid will be removed and analyzed, followed by another battery of X-rays. Blood tests will also be done. If the primary problem seems to be the heart, an electrocardiogram and possibly an echocardiogram will be recommended.
Treatment is focused on removing fluid from the chest and preventing it from returning so that your cat can breathe easily. Fluid will initially be removed by placing a needle into the chest and manually removing as much fluid as possible. Most cats tolerate this well. Preventing the fluid from accumulating in the chest again is the difficult part, depending on the underlying cause of the breathing difficulties.
Additionally, the goal of treatment is to have your cat feeling well enough to eat and drink on his own. Your cat will most likely be hospitalized for a few days until all these goals are achieved. He may be put on intravenous fluids and receive injectable medication beyond those already discussed to ease his breathing. He may need to be on oxygen for an indefinite amount of time as well.
Other things that can cause difficulty by affecting the chest (pleural cavity): trauma, tumors, hiatal hernia, diaphragmatic hernia, bleeding (hemothorax), and infection (pyothorax and pleurisy).
Living and Management
Most of the diseases that affect the chest will require prolonged or life-long care to keep your cat breathing easy. These diseases generally do shorten your cat's life span. The worst is FIP, which usually proves fatal in 1 to 2 months. Follow-up visits and tests will be necessary to monitor your cat's condition. The long-term goal for most of these diseases is quality of life, not cure.
There is little to be done to prevent these diseases. Some cases of cardiomyopathy are due to deficiencies of taurine, an amino acid. Commercial cat foods are formulated to supply your cat with a sufficient amount of taurine; you can buy supplements that contain taurine as well. There is a vaccine available for FIP, but the use of this vaccine is highly controversial, and should be discussed with you veterinarian.
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This article is posted through the courtesy of petMD "Because pets can't talk"