What are Mucus?
The respiratory system’s most important function is delivering oxygen to the blood and removing carbon dioxide. However, at times, the mucus in a cat’s respiratory tract becomes too thick to allow a proper amount of oxygen to pass through the nose or mouth, causing the oxygen levels in the blood to become dangerously low. When oxygen levels become too low in the blood, veterinarians use the term anoxia or hypoxia to describe the condition. A cat in the state of hypoxia will begin showing symptoms of respiratory distress, increasing the rate of breathing to compensate for the mucus obstruction and low oxygen levels. The feline will soon fall seriously ill from the lack of oxygen in the bloodstream and develop conditions of respiratory disease.
Respiratory diseases are common in felines of all ages, but the very old and very young are at higher risk for contraction. Weak immune systems at the start of a kitten’s life and the inability to filter the respiratory system, makes this group of felines more vulnerable to contamination of disease organisms found in the air.
The respiratory system of the cat consists of the trachea, right and left bronchi, the bronchioles found within the lungs, and the alveoli. When the feline breathes in air through the nose or mouth, it passes through each part of the respiratory system, down into the lungs to exchange oxygen in the blood. The air a cat breathes is filled with large particles of dust, dirt, and pollen that can damage the respiratory system, so the respiratory system has a filtration system to protect itself. Mucus is the thick, clear material that lines the entire respiratory system. Airborne particles land on the mucus, or mucous lining, within the nasal passageways. The large particles caught by the mucosal lining are carried down to the throat where the cat either coughs them up or swallows them. Any swallowed particles caught in the mucus lining will be destroyed by the feline’s immune system.
Symptoms of Mucus in Cats
Mucus is clear in a healthy cat, but a cat with respiratory disease will have brown, reddish, green, or yellow mucus coming from the nose. The excessive mucus will stuff up the nasal passageway in one or both nostrils, making it difficult for the cat to breathe or smell. As the sense of smell is depleted, a cat may lose its appetite and refuse to eat, eventually losing weight. Mucus in cats may also cause symptoms including:
- Noisy breathing
- Painful breath
- Shallow breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Labored breathing
- Rapid breath
- Wet or dry cough
- Nasal discharge
The feline increases her rate of breath and strains to breathe in an attempt to restore its core oxygen levels. The change in breath causes the spleen to contract, releasing more red blood cells into circulation to carry oxygen, but without oxygen to carry the body responds negatively. The heart rate increases, pushing more blood to grab oxygen and move to the brain. The lack of oxygen causes the brain to depress nerve stimulations and the vital organs including the liver, kidneys, intestine and heart slow activity.
Causes of Mucus in Cats
Mucus related respiratory disease in cats is often caused by inhalation of a toxic substance, allergens that cause an immune-mediated reaction, parasites, or a fungal, bacterial or viral infection. Cats that live in shelters, boarding facilities, and pet shops are at a greater risk of developing a mucus condition due to the fact that they are housed in close quarters with several felines. Likewise, if a cat lives in unsanitary conditions or in a tobacco smoke-filled home, the body will react by producing more mucus to filter the toxins. A full list of the causes of mucus in cats include:
- Birth abnormalities (cleft palate, narrowed nostrils or trachea)
- Trauma (such as hit-by-car)
- Overcrowded boarding/shelter facilities
- Collapsed trachea
- Chronic nasal disease
- Nasopharyngeal polyps
- Smoke or airborne toxins
- Viral infections (calicivirus, Feline immunodeficiency virus, Rhinotracheitis virus)
- Bacterial infections (Bordetella, Chlamydophila felis)
- Fungal infections
- Parasite infections (lungworms, heartworms)
Diagnosis of Mucus in Cats
An overview of your cat’s medical history and a physical examination are the first steps in the diagnosis of mucus in cats. Your veterinarian may use a scope to view the airways, throat, and nose to determine if the mucus accumulation is a problem of the upper or lower respiratory system. Make sure to share symptoms you have noticed your cat displaying at home, such as coughing, wheezing or heavy breathing, as these symptoms can give the veterinarian clues to the condition at hand. Diagnostic tests that your vet may complete next include:
- A nasal or mouth swab to identify a bacterial, viral or fungal infection.
- Blood tests to identify infection and organ function
- Blood gas analysis to determine carbon dioxide and oxygen levels in the blood
- Pulse oximetry to determine pulse rate
- Chest x-rays to identify low respiratory conditions
- Echocardiograph to evaluate the state of the heart
- Biopsy of tissues to identify a tumor if present
Treatment of Mucus in Cats
If your cat is experiencing great breathing difficulties, the veterinarian may place her in an oxygenated chamber or place an oxygen mask. Your veterinarian may then administer or prescribe medications to thin and reduce the amount of mucus in the feline’s respiratory tract. If the veterinarian believes the cat can cough up the mucus, a cough medicine or expectorant, may be prescribed. However, if the feline’s airways are too narrow or obstructed for a productive cough, a bronchodilator, such as a steroid, may be prescribed. Antibiotics are prescribed to patients who have been diagnosed with a bacterial infection and diuretics are often given to patients who have accumulated fluid on the lungs.
Recovery of Mucus in Cats
Recovery and management of mucus in cats depends on the underlying condition that your cat has contracted. You can aid your cat’s recovery by listening to your veterinarian and administering all medications as directed. In most cases, your cat should have access to fluids 24/7 and her area for recovery should be clean, including the air she breathes.
Mucus Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
Hello, My cat, Tyler, is 19. He seems to have trouble swallowing. His breathing is very noisy. To me, it seems like he has a lot of phlegm in his throat. The vet did 2 x-rays of Tyler's throat and said she couldn't see anything abnormal. She gave him a shot of steroids which did nothing noticeable throat wise. Then tried nose drops which Tyler refused. Then Claritin which made his throat sound worse. We are not looking to do any invasive tests as he is 19 and has thyroid and kidney issues. I am looking for something to get rid of the phlegm or at least reduce it. Any insight or suggestions will be appreciated.
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My cat has asthma, and every week he has buildup of mucus in his throat (he never has mucus in his nose), Could be good for him to nebulize with saline solution? every other day to remove or reduce buildup of mucus in his throat. Does nebulization could has side effects? which?
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Our cat has an extreme mucus problem. He constantly
sneezes with mucus coming out usually in large amounts. His breathing is loud. We have been giving him allergy medicines from over the counter. What can be done for him?
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