How to treat breathing difficulties in cats

My cat is having trouble breathing; What do I do?

There are three different types of breathing problems that cats tend to develop – panting, rapid breathing (tachypnea), and dyspnea, or labored breathing. And there is a similarly wide range of causes for each of these conditions, some more serious than others.

No matter what condition you think your cat has, a visit to the vet is always recommended when your cat is having breathing difficulties. This guide will help you learn more about the treatment options veterinarians use to treat breathing difficulties in cats.

Take your cat to the vet for breathing problems

When you take your cat to the vet for breathing problems, your vet 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 need to be used to help expand the lungs. Once your cat is stable, your vet will assess her condition by performing a series of tests, including:

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

A treatment plan for your cat will then be created once all test results are back and the exact cause of the breathing problems indicated.

Pharmaceutical treatments for breathing difficulties in cats

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

An example of this is when a cat suffers from asthma. Your vet may prescribe two medications to help make your cat’s breathing easier: usually an anti-inflammatory such as prednisolone or fluticasone, and an airway dilator such as albuterol or terbutaline. If an infection plays a role in your cat’s difficulty breathing, an antibiotic will be prescribed to treat the infection.

In cases where heart disease is causing breathing difficulties, your vet will prescribe medications to help normalize your cat’s blood pressure and make her heart pump more efficiently. These combinations can include medicines such as enalapril, furosemide, or pimobendan. Cats with heart disease are also usually put on special diets.

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

When is surgery required for cats with breathing problems?

Airway obstruction is the most common reason why surgery is required for cats with breathing difficulties, but it is not the only reason. Surgery is also a viable option when the cat has cancer, pleural effusion (fluid or gas buildup around the lungs), or trauma.

Manage your cat’s breathing problems at home

Once evaluated and treated by your vet, your cat will need plenty of rest, fresh food, and water. You should stay indoors and comfortable. You need to administer the prescribed medications exactly as prescribed by your vet for the best results. Don’t stop taking your cat’s antibiotics if she starts to breathe and behave better, because the problem could come back. Always follow up with your vet as recommended.

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