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How to Treat Breathing Difficulties in Cats

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My Cat Is Having Trouble Breathing; What Do I Do?

There are three different types of breathing problems that cats tend to develop—panting, fast breathing (tachypnea), and dyspnea, or difficulty breathing. And, there is a correspondingly wide array of causes for each of these conditions, some more severe than others.

Regardless of which condition you think your cat has, a visit to your veterinarian is always recommended when your cat is suffering from breathing difficulties. This guide will help you learn more about the treatment options used by veterinarians to treat breathing difficulties in cats.

Taking Your Cat to Your Veterinarian for Breathing Problems

When you take your cat to your veterinarian for breathing problems, your veterinarian may have to administer sedation to reduce stress and anxiety and put your cat on supplemental oxygen to stabilize her breathing. In very severe cases, a chest tap may have to be used to help the lungs expand. Once your cat is stabilized, your veterinarian will evaluate her condition by performing a series of tests, including:

  • Complete blood count and chemistry panel
  • Chest x-rays
  • Echocardiogram
  • Electrocardiogram
  • Serology tests to look for signs of infectious disease
  • Examination of fluid samples from or around the airways or lungs

The treatment plan will then be created for your cat once all the test results come back and indicate the exact cause of the breathing problems.

Medicinal Treatments for Breathing Difficulties in Cats

When a cat has difficulty breathing, it is the cause that is treated, not the breathing symptoms alone, except in cases where an obstruction in the airway is the cause. In most cases, this involves administering a medication to treat the underlying cause.

An example of this is when a cat suffers from asthma. Your veterinarian may prescribe two drugs to help make it easier for your cat to breathe: typically an anti-inflammatory like prednisolone or fluticasone, and an airway dilator like albuterol or terbutaline. If an infection is playing a role in your cat's breathing difficulty, then an antibiotic will be prescribed to treat the infection.

In cases where heart disease is causing the breathing difficulties, your veterinarian will prescribe drugs to help normalize your cat's blood pressure and make her heart pump more efficiently. Such combinations can include drugs like enalapril, furosemide, or pimobendan. Cats with heart disease also usually will be put on special diets as well.

If cancer is the cause, then treatment can include anything from surgery to chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

When Is Surgery Required for Cats with Breathing Problems?

An obstruction in the airway is the most common reason why surgery is required for a cat suffering from breathing difficulties, but it's not the only reason. Surgery is also a viable option when a cat has cancer, pleural effusion (fluid or gas collected around lungs), or trauma.

Managing Your Cat's Breathing Problems at Home

Once evaluated and treated by your veterinarian, your cat will need plenty of rest and fresh food and water. She should be kept indoors and comfortable. You need to administer the prescribed medications exactly as prescribed by your veterinarian for them to have the best results. Do not stop your cat's antibiotics if she starts breathing and acting better, because the problem can return. Always follow up with your veterinarian as recommended.

About the Author

Dr. Evan Ware

Dr. Evan Ware is a veterinary practitioner in Phoenix, Arizona. He received both his undergraduate degree in microbiology and his Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from The Ohio State University.

Dr. Ware is currently the Medical Director of University Animal Hospital (VCA) and is also the owner of two other hospitals, including Laveen Veterinary Center and Phoenix Veterinary Center. His areas of expertise include orthopedic medicine and surgery, veterinary oncology and chemotherapy, and general and advanced soft-tissue surgery.