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Structure and Function of the Respiratory Tract in Cats

By: Dr. Bari Spielman

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What Are the Functions of the Respiratory Tract?

  • The nose (along with the mouth) is responsible for taking air into the body. Both the fine hairs (cilia) that line the nasal cavity and the mucus that is produced by the cells of the nasal cavity work to filter debris and foreign material from the air before it enters the body. The nasal cavity also warms and moistens the air before it enters the trachea. The blood supply to this area is extensive and contributes to warming the inspired air. Moisture is added to the air by evaporation of mucosal secretions. As air passes over the back portion of the nose, the sense of smell is activated.

  • The nasopharynx functions as the passageway between the nasal cavity and the larynx. Air transported through this area passes very near the tonsils. The tonsils are a part of the immunologic system, and are capable of activating certain defense mechanisms of the body when foreign material and infectious agents are detected.

  • The larynx guards the entrance to the trachea and regulates both the inspiration and expiration of air. The valvular function of the larynx, which is created by the epiglottis and arytenoid cartilages, is vital to protecting the airway and to preventing the aspiration of food. The larynx also contains the vocal folds, which are necessary for vocalization, such as barking, whining and growling.

  • The trachea or windpipe serves to conduct air downward into the lungs. It is also lined by tiny hairs called cilia and mucus producing cells that trap debris and foreign substances. The trachea returns those substances to the mouth through the act of coughing.

  • The bronchi bring air from the trachea into the lungs. Like the trachea they are also lined with cilia and mucus producing cells.

  • The main function of the lungs is provide a huge surface area over which gases are exchanged between the body's circulation and the outside air. Oxygen is taken in from the atmosphere and carbon dioxide is exhaled from the blood. The physical act of breathing involves well-coordinated interactions between the lungs, the central nervous system, the diaphragm and the circulatory system.

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