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Tracheostomy in Cats

By: Dr. David Diamond

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Tracheostomy is a surgical procedure in which a new opening is created into the trachea or wind pipe to facilitate the passage of air or the evacuation of secretions. The opening is made through the skin under your cat's neck and into the trachea. The new opening allows the animal to breathe through this hole, rather than through the mouth and nose. There are two types of tracheostomy: temporary and permanent.

  • A temporary tracheostomy is often used in an emergency situation when the cat is suddenly unable to breathe through the mouth, nose or larynx. This is known as an upper respiratory obstruction. Such obstruction leads to severe breathing difficulty because the animal cannot get enough oxygen into the lungs. Temporary tracheostomy may also be performed during some surgical procedures that involve tissues in and around the mouth.

  • A permanent tracheostomy is used in cases of severe upper airway obstruction that cannot be treated medically or surgically, such as collapse of the larynx or tumors of the larynx that cannot be removed surgically.

    Temporary Tracheostomy

  • A temporary tracheostomy is created in the trachea in your pet's neck. An incision is made through the skin directly over the trachea and then into the trachea itself.

  • A plastic breathing tube is passed into the new opening to allow your pet to breathe. The tube interferes with your pet's ability to clear his trachea of mucus and debris and it can quickly become obstructed. Therefore, intensive monitoring and cleaning of the tube is required to prevent this very serious complication. Animals are kept in the hospital under close supervision when a tracheostomy tube is in place.

  • When your pet is able to breathe through the upper airways, the tube is removed and the opening is allowed to close on its own.

    Permanent Tracheostomy

  • A permanent tracheostomy is made in the same location in your pet's neck as a temporary tracheostomy. A "window" is created into the trachea and the edges are sutured to the adjacent skin, creating a large opening.

  • Your pet breathes directly through the new opening; a tube is not needed.

    Home Care

    After the tube is removed from a temporary tracheostomy the site is monitored closely for signs of swelling or discharge while it heals. The hole usually seals very quickly, within one to two days, and the incision should be healed within one to two weeks. Generally, a portion of the skin incision is left open to allow the trachea to heal before the skin closes. This helps prevent air from leaking out and becoming trapped under the skin.

    Long-term home care is necessary after a permanent tracheostomy has been performed.

  • Monitor the site closely and clean it frequently because mucus and debris will build up at the opening.

  • Keep the hair around the opening short so that it does not interfere with air moving in and out.

  • Do not allow your pet to swim and bathe him carefully to prevent water from entering into the trachea.

  • Use a harness-type collar instead of a neck collar.

  • Have your veterinarian evaluate the opening if you notice that it is getting smaller. This could prevent an adequate amount of air from being taken in. In such cases, surgical enlargement of the hole may be necessary.

  • Remember that the tracheostomy is often only a symptomatic treatment to allow your pet to breathe easier; the primary problem is usually still present and may continue to progress and cause further difficulty for your pet.

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