What is Aspiration Pneumonia?
If you believe your cat may be suffering from aspiration pneumonia it will be important to seek immediate veterinary care, as the symptoms can progress quickly.
Aspiration pneumonia in cats is a potentially life-threatening condition in which food or another foreign body is inhaled into the lungs. The object or material causes irritation and inflammation and the body’s natural reaction is to produce fluid and mucus as a response to the irritant. The fluid and mucus will build up in your cat’s lungs, making it difficult to breathe. The foreign material can also contain bacteria that may grow and reproduce in the warm and moist environment of the lungs. In this case, your cat may also develop an infection which will cause the buildup of fluid to be more severe and more difficult to recover from.
Symptoms of Aspiration Pneumonia in Cats
The severity of symptoms will vary from cat to cat and will also depend on the quantity and size of food or other foreign body that has been inhaled. Common signs to watch for include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Lack of appetite
- Coughing or hacking
- Rattling or noisy breathing
- Panting or breathing through mouth
- Arching or stretching of the neck
- Discolored pale or blue gums
- Runny nose
Causes of Aspiration Pneumonia in Cats
The underlying cause of aspiration pneumonia is a foreign body that enters your cat’s lungs. This condition occurs in hand-reared kittens and in adult cats.
Aspiration Pneumonia in Kittens
Aspiration pneumonia can often occur in very young, hand-reared kittens. This happens when milk is administered through a bottle with too large of a nipple hole, or that allows too large of a flow of milk or fluid. Kittens can inhale when attempting to nurse and fluid can then enter the lungs. Improper bottle position or improper use of tube feeding can also cause a young kitten to inhale liquid.
Aspiration Pneumonia in Adult or Non-Nursing Cats
In the case of adult or non-nursing cats, aspiration pneumonia can have a variety of causes. These may include:
- Inhalation of food particle after eating too quickly
- As a result of vomiting
- After general anesthesia
- Faulty administration of liquid medication
- Exposure to smoke, gas, or other caustic chemicals that irritate the lungs
- Diseases that cause laryngeal paralysis, which disrupts the normal movement of food and air in passageways
Diagnosis of Aspiration Pneumonia in Cats
Diagnosis of aspiration pneumonia in your cat will begin with a complete physical exam. You should provide your doctor with a complete physical history for your cat. If your kitten is young, mention whether and via what method you have been hand-feeding or nursing. It will also be important to let your vet know if your cat has recently undergone anesthesia or was sedated for other procedures. Finally, provide your vet with a complete history of any vomiting, regurgitation, or neck or back problems which may indicate an underlying condition or disease.
Your vet will then perform various diagnostic tests. A basic temperature check and a full blood panel and urinalysis will help determine whether there is any underlying infection. Your vet will attempt to examine the mouth or airways of your cat. They will also listen to lung sounds using a stethoscope. This will identify the telltale raspiness or popping sound of air traveling around mucus and fluid within the lungs.
Your vet may also remove fluid from the lungs to culture for any potential sensitivity. This will allow them to determine the best course of antibiotic or other prescription treatment for your cat. This may sometimes be done via a procedure called an endotracheal lavage in which fluid is flushed into the lung and aspirated back for culture testing.
Your vet may also order x-ray or ultrasound imaging which will help determine the extent of the buildup of fluid in the lungs and will also potentially identify any laryngeal disease which caused the aspiration initially. X-rays may also help identify the cause of vomiting, if that is the cause of the aspiration pneumonia.
Treatment of Aspiration Pneumonia in Cats
Treatment of aspiration pneumonia will depend on the underlying cause. Your veterinarian’s first priority will be to stabilize your cat and treat the immediate symptoms in order to facilitate normal breathing and elimination of any infection. Oxygen therapy, in which your cat is given oxygen through a mask, or at some clinics, placed in a special oxygen machine, is a common treatment for stabilizing your cat. Intravenous fluids and antibiotics will also help stabilize your cat and support its system while fighting off any infection.
Once your cat has stabilized, your veterinarian may treat any underlying conditions such as disease or vomiting. Anti-vomiting medications may be given to help reduce the risk of future episodes. Once your cat is stable and can breathe normally, it may be allowed to go home to continue to recover.
Recovery of Aspiration Pneumonia in Cats
Prognosis for recovery from aspiration pneumonia is good. Once stabilized, the majority of cats begin to recover at home and return to normal behaviors within several weeks. Follow up visits with your vet will be important to determine whether any scarring of the lungs has occurred. You should carefully follow all treatment regimens since aspiration pneumonia can return and escalate quickly if the infection and inflammation are not fully eliminated.
Aspiration Pneumonia Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
My kitten is 3 weeks old and her mother abandoned her. Sadly I did not know how to bottle feed an actual kitten so I fed her like a baby, squeezing the bottle and after so much research, I begin to worry but she does not show any sign of Aspiration Pneumonia. She is happy, walking, now drinking milk the right way, meowing. She did sneeze a few after trying to 'drink' milk from my shirt. How long will the symptoms appear? Will she have it? Does she have it?
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