What is Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome?
Recognizing ARDS in your cat early is essential since affected felines require 24-hour critical care. A feline who has suddenly develop respiratory distress is a true emergency case that requires stabilization and rapid treatment by a veterinary professional.
Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) in cats is defined by the sudden onset of difficult breathing. Acute respiratory distress syndrome is not a diagnosis in itself, but a health condition that is the result of trauma or irritation to the lungs. Acute respiratory distress syndrome in cats is caused by a response to shock, a severe lung infection, trauma, or a lung irritation. A cat affected by ARDS will develop extreme difficulty in breathing.
Symptoms of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome in Cats
Felines affected by acute respiratory distress syndrome will develop severe labored breathing. In order to pull more air into the lungs a cat may open her mouth to breathe, gulp for air, and extend her neck and head outward. The feline may lay down and concentrate on breathing, extending the abdomen in an attempt to increase the oxygen intake. Due to the lack of oxygen in the body and in the blood, the feline’s mucous membranes will change from a healthy pink to a blue tinge. ARDS may cause a feline to have a moist cough, while others are too weak to produce a cough. Additional symptoms include:
- Foaming at the mouth
- Bloody expectorate
- Harsh lung sounds upon auscultation
- Open-mouthed breathing
- Restrictive respiratory pattern
- Cyanosis (blue mucous membranes)
- Acute onset of respiratory distress
- Low-grade cough production
Causes of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome in Cats
Acute respiratory distress syndrome in cats is a consequence of damage of the lungs. Fluid accumulates within the lung tissues and prevents the exchange of oxygen. Acute respiratory distress syndrome has a wide variety of causes, such as shock response, infection, trauma and irritation, with the most common causes being:
- Hit-by-car accidents
- Lung infection (pneumonia)
- Smoke inhalation
- Chemical irritation
Diagnosis of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome in Cats
Felines that are presented to the veterinary clinic with suspected acute respiratory distress will have minimal handling to avoid stress that could exacerbate the problem. Therefore, your veterinarian may choose to begin oxygen therapy to stabilize the cat before proceeding to conduct the physical examination. Upon physical examination, the veterinarian may perform a thoracic auscultate (listen with a stethoscope) and note harsh or crackling lung sounds. The cat doctor may then move on to perform x-rays of the chest to look for the presence of an airway obstruction, fluid on the lungs, or trauma to the thoracic cavity that may be the cause of the problem. Blood tests can confirm the presence of an infection or inflammation, as a high level of white blood cells could link the feline’s ARDS to a severe infection. The veterinarian may also choose to measure the level of oxygen saturation in the feline’s blood using a pulse oximeter, telling the vet just how much oxygen the cat is taking in.
Treatment of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome in Cats
Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a serious condition for felines and all small pets. The first goal for the cat’s treatment plan is stabilization. Many felines go into shock or high levels of stress panic due to the lack of oxygen, therefore, your veterinarian will want to place the feline on oxygen therapy immediately. An oxygen tube, mask, nasal catheter, or oxygen chamber can be used to supply the feline with oxygen. Intravenous fluids may be supplemented to the feline, but only in the case of shock. If your cat is past the point of recovery and cannot breathe on her own, the veterinarian may suggest euthanasia to put an end to her suffering.
Recovery of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome in Cats
The prognosis for felines diagnosed with acute respiratory distress syndrome is relatively poor. Patients that do survive after receiving critical emergency treatment often develop pulmonary fibrosis, or scarring of the lung tissue, which permanently interferes with the cat’s ability to breathe. Your feline will be limited in her physical activity to avoid loss of breath. The veterinarian may advise you to keep a clean home, equipped with an air purifier to remove pollutants from the air and aid your feline’s breathing.
Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My cat Fred (12 yrs old) was rescued as a kitten and suffered from smoke inhalation as a result of a house fire. Since then he has always has some congestion and wheezing when he breathes. For a few weeks now, he's shown bloody-tinged mucous in his eyes and I clean them daily to keep his eyes clear. Just since yesterday I noticed he is wheezing more as he breathes. His nose is runny and sometimes he sneezes and quite a bit of mucous comes out. This morning I noticed dried blood on his upper lip just under his nose. I don't believe his nose is bleeding but I can't be sure. I think he's just licked his nose raw from it being runny. He doesn't seem to be in pain and still eats and drinks just fine. No problem using his outdoor kitty box. He still jumps into my lap, purring and kneading as he has always done.
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He I said unable to eat or move and he appears to be dehydrated. His extremities are cold and he appears blue-ish.
If Major looks blue and dehydrated, this isn’t something you can manage at home; please take him to your Veterinarian (or Emergency Veterinarian) immediately for oxygen therapy and fluids. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM
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