What is Drowning?
If your pet cannot swim, or has any other medical condition, it is important to watch them near any body of water. Even if your cat is rescued after falling and struggling in the water, they may still suffer some mild to life-threatening near-drowning symptoms.
There are several things that can prevent your cat from exiting a body of water. The unfortunate outcomes of that can be immediately fatal in the case of drowning, or can cause near drowning, an act that may lead to further complications down the road-- even death. Near drowning is, in short, defined as inhaling a large amount of water and surviving. The survival typically lasts beyond 24 hours, although you may notice symptoms before and within that timeframe.
Symptoms of Drowning in Cats
Near drowning occurs consistently in four stages. The first noticeable stage is your cat will make rapid swimming motions and attempt to hold their breath. Secondly, they will begin choking once the water fills their lungs. The next stage concerns gagging and vomiting. Lastly, your cat will lose consciousness, which may eventually lead to death.
Beyond the four stages, there are a few other symptoms to be on the lookout for:
- Blue/gray tongue/mucous membrane
- Fluid coming from mouth/nose
- Extreme anxiety/distress
- Dilated pupils
- Difficulty regulating body temperature
- Signs of shock (e.g. increased heart rate, weak pulse)
Causes of Drowning in Cats
There are a handful of situations that can induce your cat into experiencing drowning or near drowning:
- Age (very young/very old may lose strength faster or be unable to swim)
- Medical conditions (e.g. blindness, seizures, dementia)
- Exhaustion (e.g. unable to exit a pool)
- Owner negligence (e.g. unattended pet, young children bathing pet unsupervised)
Diagnosis of Drowning in Cats
If your cat appears to be behaving normally after having been underwater, then your veterinarian may only want to keep them under 24-hour observation to be certain they don't experience any symptoms. For the more serious near drowning cases, your vet will want to perform several diagnostic tests.
Two common exams are a Complete Blood Count (CBC) and a biochemistry profile, both of which are useful in checking over the white blood cells or any damage that may have occurred to internal organs due to oxygen deprivation. Another routine check requires the use of a pulse oximeter, a clip placed on your cat's lip, to measure oxygenation. Further ways to see how well your cat can oxygenate is by obtaining an arterial blood gas. The result of that will tell your vet if your cat requires oxygen therapy.
Chest x-rays are typically taken as well as they can tell your vet if pneumonia or a pulmonary edema is present. As pulmonary edemas can take up to two days to develop, routine x-rays may be required. In the case of pneumonia (or contaminated water), your vet may utilize a transtracheal aspiration (TTA) to sample the fluid in the lungs, which helps determine what antibiotics may be needed.
In the event your cat was submerged in fresh water, a urinalysis will be useful to detect any damage to the red blood cells, resulting in hemoglobin in the urine.
Treatment of Drowning in Cats
Treatment of near drowning varies as it depends on how long your cat was submerged, what damage was sustained, and the type of water.
No matter how your cat may be behaving, it is best for them to undergo 24-hour observation after a near drowning as symptoms may still reveal themselves over time. If your cat has any difficulty breathing, your vet will administer oxygen therapy to assist. Once oxygen and/or IV therapy has failed, your cat will be connected to a ventilator to breathe for them, usually for 24-72 hours until they gain the strength to breathe on their own.
Your vet may also use a bronchodilator such as terbutaline to improve breathing by dilating the airways, but it tends to only have a minor, temporary effect. If there is water in the lungs, then diuretics can help in ridding it.
Antibiotics will be administered if pneumonia is detected or your cat was submerged in water that may be contaminated.
Other medication that will be sent via IV includes drugs such as steroids, which are used in the case of cerebral edema. Fluids are also used to reduce dehydration and in the treatment of shock.
Recovery of Drowning in Cats
Recovering from near drowning may take some time depending on the extent of your cat's injuries. It is best to change up their normal routine to keep them relaxed and taking it easy. They may have experienced lung damage from mild to severe, so you should not allow them to exercise much, if at all, for a week or so following discharge from the hospital.
If your cat has experienced severe complications such as pneumonia or a pulmonary edema, they will have difficulty breathing, so keeping them calm and exercise-free is important until their health improves. Try to follow up with your vet even if your cat appears normal as your vet can conduct the proper tests in order to see whether or not your pet has recovered, especially in the case antibiotics are being administered.