My cat was diagnosed with subcutaneous emphysema

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Our question this week was:

Hello…

I really need some help and advice for my cat patches. she has been diagnosed with subcutaneous emphysema. The vet believes it's from a tear in her trachea. Patches is totally swelled from her neck to her back. The vet said it would take time to go down. Anywhere from a few days to 2 weeks. This is not life threatening is it? She is so uncomfortable. Can you let me know anything else I should be aware of? Please. I'd really appreciate it!!

Thank you kindly,

Alisa Zobel

Answer

Hi – thanks for your email. Subcutaneous emphysema is a term used to describe a condition in which air that has leaked under the skin (subcutaneous area). Most often it is from a trachea tear of some sort. This can occur from an endotracheal tube used to delivery anesthesia or from trauma.

The skin swells up, sometimes severely and when you touch your cat you can feel the air and even some "crackles" as you squish the air between the skin and the tissue under the skin. It can be very painful to some cats.

Treatment depends on the severity. Many cases of subcutaneous emphysema will improve with time. Sometimes air has to be drained from under the skin to keep the cats comfortable. Severe problems can require surgery to fix the tear.

Best of luck!

Dr. Debra

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