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Near Drowning in Cats

By: Dr. Anne Marie Manning

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Near drowning is non-fatal water inhalation and survival for longer than twenty-four hours. In a near-drowning episode, cessation of breathing results in a loss of oxygen to the brain and a rise in carbon dioxide levels in the blood. It can also cause aspiration of water into the lungs resulting in damage to the lung tissue.

Near drowning can occur in either fresh or salt water. Salt water near drowning occurs in the ocean, and fresh water near drowning can occur in lakes, ponds, swimming pools, toilets, sinks, bathtubs, and water dishes.

Very young, very old and debilitated animals are more likely to drown, as they may be unable to swim, they lose strength more rapidly, or they are unable to get out of the water, as in a pool. Also, young children attempting to bathe a pet in the tub may hold a kitten, puppy, or other small pet under water without understanding the consequences.

Several conditions result from near drowning. These include:

  • Atelectasis and pulmonary edema. Depending on whether the water is fresh or salt water, near drowning can result in either collapse of the lungs (atelectasis) or accumulation of water in the airways (pulmonary edema). These cause difficulty breathing due to lack of ability to oxygenate blood.

  • Pneumonia may result from aspiration of contaminated water or aspiration of vomitus.

  • Cerebral edema, which is swelling of the brain, may develop as a result of lack of oxygen resulting in an abnormal mental state, seizures, coma and death.

  • In approximately 10 percent of near drowning victims, the larynx goes into spasm and seals the airway, causing the pet to die from asphyxia or complete lack of oxygen.

  • Immersion in cold water or immersion for long periods of time can cause a drop in body temperature, signs of shock and ultimately death.

    What to Watch For

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Signs of shock such as increased respiratory rate and effort, increased heart rate, weak pulses, pale or bluish-gray gums, and cool extremities.

    Diagnosis

    Your veterinarian may want to perform a few diagnostic tests to evaluate your dog's condition. Some of these include:

  • Thoracic radiographs (chest X-rays)
  • Arterial blood gas
  • Pulse oximetry, which measures the pulse rate and the percentage of oxygenated and reduced hemoglobin
  • Culture of bronchial exudate
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Biochemistry profile
  • Urinalysis
  • Central venous pressure

    Treatment

    The level of treatment that your pet requires varies depending on the type of water in which your pet was submerged, the length of time your pet was without oxygen, and the degree of lung damage sustained. Treatments may include the following:

  • Hospitalization for observation
  • Administration of oxygen
  • Placement of an intravenous (IV) catheter for administration of IV fluids to treat dehydration and shock
  • Administration of a diuretic such as furosemide (Lasix)
  • Administration of bronchodilators such as aminophylline or terbutaline
  • Mechanical ventilation for pets that continue to have difficulty breathing despite supplemental oxygen therapy
  • Drugs to reduce swelling of the brain such as mannitol and steroids. Antibiotics are not administered routinely

    Home Care and Prevention

    If your dog experiences a near drowning, remove him immediately from the water.

  • Clear the airway of debris and water. This can be done by holding the pet upside down so water can drain from the mouth and nose. Maintain a position with the head in a dependent position (head down). Place your pet on his side.

  • Attempt resuscitation. If your pet is not breathing, clear the airway of any debris and attempt mouth to nose resuscitation. Administer breaths every 3-5 seconds. You can also do chest compressions if you suspect the animal's heart has stopped beating.

  • Wrap your pet in a blanket and transport him to a veterinarian for evaluation, even if he appears normal after submersion.

    You can prevent near-drowning if you incorporate these practical rules into your household:

  • Do not allow pets to swim without supervision.

  • Do not allow small children to bathe pets. Instead, let them participate while you bathe your pet.

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