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Dyspnea (Trouble Breathing) in Cats

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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Definitive therapy is always dependent on establishment of a diagnosis. Since there are numerous potential causes of dyspnea, it is necessary to identify a specific cause to provide optimal therapy. Goals in therapy may include improving heart function, preventing fluid accumulation, preventing further deterioration of the heart muscle and antagonizing chemicals and hormones produced in excessive quantities in dyspnea. Rarely is it possible to cure heart disease.

The most important causes of dyspnea in cats are valve degeneration and cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease). Definitive treatment likely would require valve replacement (which is rarely done in cats) or heart transplantation (not done currently).

Dyspnea caused by fluid accumulation in the sac around the heart (pericardial effusion) is not treated by drugs but instead requires drainage of the fluid or removal of a portion of the pericardial membrane. Congenital (present at birth) heart defects should be referred to a specialist for management.

Animals with respiratory distress must be handled with care because struggling can result in respiratory arrest.

Initial treatments may include:

  • Minimize stress and handling

  • Provide oxygen and cage rest

  • Remove fluid or air from the chest cavity (thoracentesis) if present in large quantities

  • Perform tracheal intubation and ventilation if life-threatening dyspnea is evident and respiratory arrest is imminent

  • Administer furosemide (Lasix®), oxygen and possible vasodilator therapy (Nitroglycerine®) for pulmonary edema

  • Treat acute dyspnea of infectious origin with rest, inhalation of humidified air and antibiotics if bacterial infection is suspected . Maintenance of hydration is essential and administration of certain drugs, such as expectorants and bronchodilators, might be useful in bronchitis and pneumonia.

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