Feline Tachypnea (Rapid Breathing Rate)
Tachypnea, also referred to as polypnea, is an increased rate of breathing. Tachypnea, unlike dyspnea (distressful feeling associated with labored breathing), need not be an indication of distress.
Causes of Tachypnea in Cats
There are several causes for fast respiratory rates in cats. They include:
Upper Respiratory Causes
Diseases of the nostrils and sinuses (infection, narrowing, inflammation, cancer)
Soft palate disorders
Laryngeal diseases (swelling, collapse, paralysis, spasm)
Tracheal (windpipe) diseases (tumors, collapse, foreign bodies)
Compression of upper airway structures from thoracic changes (masses, lymph nodes)
Lower Respiratory Causes
Lower respiratory disorders include obstructive (that which clogs or blocks) diseases and restrictive (that which confines) diseases.
Bronchial diseases (bronchitis, asthma, cancer, parasites)
Lung diseases (fluid, pneumonia, bleeding, clots, parasites, cancer, and lung lobe twisting)
Pleural effusion (fluid in the chest cavity)
Pneumothorax (air in the chest cavity)
Masses, lymph nodes or tumors in the chest cavity
Heart diseases (congestive heart failure, arrhythmias)
Neuromuscular diseases (trauma, cancer, inflammation)
Metabolic/endocrine diseases (diabetes, hyperthyroidism)
Hematologic diseases (anemia, acetaminophen toxicity)
Abdominal diseases (masses, enlarged organs, fluid)
Other (pain, fear, physical exertion, fever, heat, stress, obesity, drugs)
Tachypnea may have little to no impact on the affected individual, especially in association with transient causes such as fear or stress. Conversely, it may represent a more severe, life-threatening illness. For this reason, tachypnea should not be ignored and addressed if it persists or progresses to dyspnea.
What to Watch For
Blue color to the gums
Excessive drinking or urinating
Diagnosis of Tachypnea in Cats
Before any testing is performed, consider any factors that may be causative (heat, stress, over exertion) and eliminate them from your pet’s environment. If tachypnea persists despite removing the possible cause, and/or signs are long standing or progressive, it is important to seek veterinary attention and have tests performed on your pet.
A complete blood count (CBC), biochemical profile, and urinalysis are an important part of any baseline work up. Changes may suggest conditions that cause tachypnea such as anemia, infection and diabetes.
A thyroid (t4) level on all cats six years of age or older
Feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus test for all cats
An arterial blood gas to assess the patient’s acid-base status
Chest radiographs (X-rays) should be performed on these patients. It may be important to include the structures of the neck in some cases so as not to miss a foreign body or tumor in the upper respiratory tract.
An ultrasound of the heart and thoracic cavity
Thoracocentesis (withdrawing fluid, air or tissue from the chest) and fluid analysis or cytology
More advanced diagnostics to include rhinoscopy or tracheobronchoscopy (scoping the nasal cavity or trachea and bronchi) and/or CT scan
Treatment of Tachypnea in Cats
Ideally, an underlying cause should be identified and corrected or eliminated. Heat, stress and exertion are examples.
Symptomatic therapy should be instituted while searching for an underlying cause.
Oxygen therapy and strict rest is of benefit to many of these individuals, especially if they are in distress.
Antibiotic or anti-inflammatory therapy may be of benefit in those with infectious or inflammatory disorders.
Fluid therapy is indicated in those who are dehydrated or have concurrent systemic diseases.
Administer all prescribed medications and return for follow up evaluation as directed by your veterinarian. Meanwhile, keep your pet in a cool, stress free environment, and do not over exert your pet.