Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome Average Cost

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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: 

  • Dyspnea 
  • Tachypnea
  • Hypoxemia 
  • Foaming at the mouth
  • Bloody expectorate 
  • Harsh lung sounds upon auscultation 
  • Open-mouthed breathing 
  • Restrictive respiratory pattern 
  • Cyanosis (blue mucous membranes) 
  • Orthopnea
  • Collapse 
  • Weakness 
  • Lethargy 
  • 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) 
  • Drowning 
  • Smoke inhalation 
  • Chemical irritation 
  • Shock

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

Sammy X. Randall
American Shorthair
11 Years
Critical condition
0 found helpful
Critical condition

I had taken Sammy (11 yr old Orange Tabby) to two separate vets when he started acting like he was having 'asthma' distress. It just recently started as we moved to a new state (Tx to Oh) and into a new home. The first vet gave me an anti-biotic to give to him. I did, no change - I went to another new vet for him and I had video of his issues and she stated 'asthma' as well - and gave me an anti-biotic and predisone (?) - he got a little better, but then it started again. I have a second cat who is 22 and having a UTI issue, during that visit I explained Sammy was in distress again - she said, let's just watch it and see how he does..(really? no xray, no blood work?). Then Sammy had a really bad spell and I scooped him up and took him to the hospital where they stated that he would've died that night if I hadn't. They put him in oxygen and started him on regimen of shots, xrays, blood work, IV et al because they stated he had pneumonia and his lungs looked scared from his previous episodes. Four days in the hospital and all the shots, etc, didn't help Sammy - the doctor on call, called me in at 5:00 am on the forth day to make the call to put him down. He had saliva coming out his mouth, they had the oxygen up to 38 for him. He just wanted out and into my arms - we were very close, I was his person. She then administered the sleeping meds to settle him as he was getting distressed, he didn't want to go into that room, he wanted to go home. I'm very distressed as to 'Was this the right decision'? Why didn't the previous two vets do anything previously to save his life? Is it upon me to 'ask' for the works? a few hundred dollars would've been better than $3800, but I would pay anything to have saved him. For all others out there, what should I have done?

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1610 Recommendations
Thank you for your email, and I'm so very sorry for your loss. As veterinarians, we are often torn between what we would like to do as far as diagnostics, and the cost of those diagnostics. Perhaps, if you had let them know that money wasn't an issue, and you wanted to make sure that Sammy X. Randall was healthy, they may have taken x-rays and started treatment before he got to that point. They may have examined him, assessed that he was stable, and made that decision for you. Maybe you did let them know this fact, I do not know. Most importantly, I think, is to find a veterinarian with whom you have a good rapport, who's medicine you trust, and who you feel has your pets' best interest at heart. I am so sorry for your loss, but it does sound like you made the right decision, given his circumstances.

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American Shorthair
1 Months
Mild condition
-1 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Sleeping all the time
Weight Loss
Unable to move
unable to urinate or have bowel m
Unable to Eat

Medication Used


He I said unable to eat or move and he appears to be dehydrated. His extremities are cold and he appears blue-ish.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3318 Recommendations

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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American Shorthair
12 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Bloody mucous in eyes
Running Nose

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.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3318 Recommendations
The red tinged eye mucus may be due to a pigment which makes it look like there is blood coming from the eyes; if there was really blood coming from the eyes, Fred should be taken immediately to your Veterinarian or an Emergency Veterinarian. If Fred is otherwise alright, I would keep a close eye on him but would recommend you have him checked out by your Veterinarian given him history and his constant wheezing. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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13 Years
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Shallow breathing, fair appetite

My 13 year old cat was just diagnosed today with severe scarring of her lungs and a partially collapsed left lung, which is allowing air to accumulate in the side of her neck area. I would like to know if this means she will die within a few days, or how long she may have. The vet was unclear, but seemed sad and pessimistic about it. She apparently is managing to get good oxygen into her blood based on tests. Her appetite is fair, but has never been big. She is a tiny cat at 6 pounds.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1610 Recommendations
Thank you for your email. I'm sorry that that is happening to Bianca. How long she will be able to live depends a lot on how long this condition has taken to build up, the cause of her condition, and what percentage of her lungs are affected. If she is able to oxygenate well, she may be able to survive with this problem. Without knowing more details of her situation, I can't comment on her prognosis, but it is a very fair question to ask your veterinarian, as they have examined her and know the details of her case. I hope that she remains comfortable.

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