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Pulmonary fibrosis often goes unnoticed until it is in an advanced stage, making it extremely difficult to treat. Not every cat who has pneumonia will develop pulmonary fibrosis, but it is more likely to develop in cats who are older or who are overweight.
Fibrotic hardening of the lungs, also known as pulmonary fibrosis, is a form of pneumonia that causes inflammation and scarring in the alveoli, tiny air sacs in the lungs. Over time, the inflammation and fibrous scarring cause the lung tissues to thicken and harden. This thickening affects both the flow of oxygen and the ability of the lungs to contract normally, decreasing the amount of oxygen that the rest of the cat's body receives.
Symptoms and signs of pulmonary fibrosis typically are mild at first and slowly progress over time as the lung tissues harden.
Blue- or purple-colored mucous membranes
Though the cause of pulmonary fibrosis is rarely discovered, some cats are more likely to get the condition due to the following causes:
The veterinarian will need to know the cat's complete health history, when symptoms first began and a detailed list of all of the symptoms. Next, the veterinarian will examine the cat, looking at the mucous membranes in the mouth for signs of discoloration, listening to the lungs and heart with a stethoscope and taking its respiratory rate. A complete blood count, urinalysis and biochemical profile will be done. These tests will look for other conditions that could be causing breathing difficulties in the cat.
A chest x-ray will be taken of the cat's lungs. The x-ray will look for thickened tissue that is characteristic of fibrotic hardening of the lungs. An echocardiogram may be done to view the heart and look for enlargement or any other abnormalities. A computed tomography (CT) scan may also be done if the chest x-ray is inconclusive, in order to get a three-dimensional view of the lungs. In some cases, a biopsy may be taken of the tissue. The veterinarian will put the cat under general anesthesia during this test. A tube will be placed down the cat's lungs with an attached camera. A small sample of the tissue will be removed and then sent to an outside lab for testing.
There is no cure for pulmonary fibrosis. Treatment options will help alleviate symptoms to allow the cat to get as much oxygen as possible to improve the quality of life and to keep the cat comfortable for the remainder of its life.
If the condition has advanced, the cat may need to be hospitalized in order to receive oxygen therapy. Oxygen will be delivered to the cat via a nose cannula or a face mask. This therapy will help the cat get enough oxygen in order to function when scarring is preventing the lungs from getting enough oxygen on their own.
Corticosteroids may be prescribed in order to reduce the lung inflammation and prevent lung infections from occurring. Antifibrotic medications may also be prescribed to stop fibrous tissue from forming. Bronchodilators may also be prescribed. Bronchodilators are inhaled medications that force the bronchial tissues to relax and the airways in the lungs to widen and remain open, increasing the amount of oxygen that can pass through.
Because most cats who are diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis are overweight or obese, the veterinarian may place the cat on a special diet in order to help the cat lose excess weight. Weight loss will help improve the symptoms the cat is experiencing.
Pulmonary fibrosis is a progressive condition that will continue to worsen even with treatment. Cats only live on average a few weeks to several months with treatment. It's important to keep the cat in a dust-free environment that is free of toxic fumes, cigarette smoke and chemicals. Because pulmonary fibrosis can sometimes cause high blood pressure or heart failure to occur, it's important to follow-up with the veterinarian in order to monitor the cat's condition and progress.
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2 found helpful
Hi, my cat was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis of the lungs in February. He was prescribed a steroid which the dosage has been reduced each month. No one seems to know much about this disease and I still don’t understand why his dosage is reduced each month when the disease is meant to be progressing. I would appreciate if you could explain this to me. My cat seems fine in himself but since he came home in February he has had a couple of off days. It may be coincidence but every time I reduce the steroid he seems to have even more energy
May 17, 2018
Dr. Michele K. DVM
Steroids are used very commonly to decrease inflammation in dogs and cats, and often start at quite high doses, depending on the situation. Since long term, cats can't typically stay on these high doses, we tend to slowly decrease the dosage to an acceptable long term dosage while watching for worsening signs, until we find the appropriate dosage that can be given long term. I hope that Binx does well.
May 17, 2018
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