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What is Pneumothorax?

A pneumothorax condition is defined as free air within the pleural space (chest cavity). The naturally occurring intra-pleural pressure maintains an equilibrium of roughly 5 cmH20, similar to a vacuum which allows easy expansion of the lungs. However, unwanted air can enter this vacuum system and the equilibrium is set to match that of the chest cavity rather than the lungs. Pneumothorax can occur due to trauma, such as the action of a punctured lung will allow atmospheric air to enter the pleural space.

Pneumothorax in cats is characterized by air occupying the space surrounding the lungs. The lungs are the body’s natural oxygen storage organs, expanding as the feline inhales, but if air is surrounding the lungs it restricts normal lung activity. Pneumothorax in cats can be caused by ruptured lung tissues, blunt force trauma and bite wounds. If your cat is suffering from pneumothorax, he or she will have a great breathing difficulty, which is often fatal if left untreated.

Symptoms of Pneumothorax in Cats

Pneumothorax in cats will make inhalation and exhalation extremely difficult for the feline. The most prominent symptom of cats suffering from pneumothorax is difficulty breathing (dyspnea), but other clinical signs a cat owner may notice in the case of pneumothorax in cats includes: 

  • Exercise intolerance
  • Cyanotic (blue tinged) gums and tongue
  • Labored breathing
  • Increased respiratory rate 
  • Restlessness 
  • Sternal recumbency lying (the feline will lay on her sternum in an upright position in an attempt to bring more air into her lungs)
  • Anorexia
  • Tachypnea (shallow, rapid breath)
  • Open-mouthed breathing


Pneumothorax in cats is classified into three separate groups; iatrogenic, spontaneous and traumatic. 

Iatrogenic Pneumothorax 

The result of medical mishap during a surgical procedure. Common surgical procedures that sometimes result in pneumothorax in cats include lung surgery, intubation, thoracostomy tube placement, thoracentesis and bronchoscopy. 

Spontaneous Pneumothorax 

The result of no obvious underlying cause, without trauma. Common causes of spontaneous pneumothorax include:

  • Ruptured esophagus, lungs, trachea or bronchus.
  • Asthma
  • Lung and/or pulmonary abscess or cysts
  • Parasites in the lungs
  • Pneumonia 
  • Lung flukes
  • Heartworms
  • Cancer
  • Pulmonary bleb rupture 
  • Bullae emphysema 

Traumatic Pneumothorax

The most common cause of pneumothorax in cats caused by: 

  • Lung infection
  • Falls 
  • Hit-by-car accidents
  • Broken, fractured ribs
  • Stab wounds, bites, and gunshots 

Causes of Pneumothorax in Cats

Air can enter the chest cavity in one of two ways, termed open and closed pneumothorax. Open pneumothorax is caused by a hole in the chest wall allowing outside air to enter the pleural space surrounding the lungs. Open pneumothorax in cats is often caused by a bite wound, gunshot to the chest, or blunt force trauma causing a broken rib to tear a hole through the chest wall. Closed pneumothorax is caused by a respiratory leak in the esophagus or other parts of the respiratory system. A closed pneumothorax in cats is often the result of ruptured lung tissues, tumors, and parasite infestation. 

Diagnosis of Pneumothorax in Cats

Your veterinarian will begin his or her diagnosis of pneumothorax by reviewing your feline’s medical history and conducting a thorough physical examination. The doctor will listen to the cat’s lung auscultation using a tool called a stethoscope, which will allow the veterinarian to determine respiratory rate and abnormal breathing sounds. After listening to the feline’s lung sounds and speaking with you about clinical signs noted at home, the vet will likely request the following diagnostic exams: 

  • Biochemistry profile: aid in the evaluation of the feline’s kidneys and liver.
  • Complete blood cell count (CBC): general blood health. 
  • Pulse oximetry and arterial blood gas: a test to determine the feline’s ability to oxygenate. 
  • Chest radiographs (x-rays): reveal the presence of air in the chest cavity. 

Treatment of Pneumothorax in Cats

Pneumothorax in cats is often treated as a medical emergency, therefore, your veterinarian will likely place the feline on supportive oxygen care for stabilization purposes. An oxygen cage, oxygen mask, or an esophageal tube may be placed to administer oxygen therapy. The doctor may proceed to conduct a procedure known as a thoracocentesis, which removes the air from the pleural cavity through the action of needle aspiration. If a large amount of air is occupying the chest cavity, the veterinarian may place a chest tube to allow larger amount of air to escape from the chest. If the condition was caused by trauma or leakage of a respiratory organ, the veterinarian will surgically repair the opening. 

Pneumothorax in cats caused by parasites will require anti-parasitic drug therapy and underlying disease will be treated based on the veterinarian’s findings. 

Recovery of Pneumothorax in Cats

Your cat will likely be hospitalized for a couple of days to remove the air from the lungs and ensure regular breathing habits are set in place. Once the feline is released from the hospital, exercise restrictions are recommended and follow-up care is to be expected. Some cases of pneumothorax in cats can be prevented by keeping the feline indoors when you are not home and keeping up-to-date on parasite preventatives. 

Pneumothorax Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

9 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms


My indoor 9 yr old cat was diagnosed with left lower lung collapse and suspected mass. She’s up to date on vaccinations. What causes this. She’s on doxy drops 0.6 cc for a month. I’m using a humidifier. The vet at the clinic suggested US or CT. Which is a better modality for diagnosis? They suggested possibly lymphoma. She’s eating and drinking fine. But sounds crackly. No open mouth breathing though. Thoughts?

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Baby Oreo
4 Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

On the 23 dec nite my cat name oreo seem to be breathless but i do check that the tongue not pink colour but the condition that nite worst.A month before the sickness stike his use to sleep and not active use to be before.So that nite 23 dec at 11:30 our family him to the 24 hours vet at whitley as the doc do the xtray and put him at oxigen box as doctor mention need to suck out the fluid.The procedure done without our family around cause doctor told us to go back and they will update.At about 5am doctor call and said that my cat are stabil but hour later doctor call and inform that my cat die.I and family totally shock and asking and searching for answer is the doctor did right thing or is the procedure done to soon without doing the scan first before they proceed with the operation.Please guide us to find the answer the cause of the death our most beloving cat.

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longhair domestic
14 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Swallowing difficulty

Past history: About a year ago, I took my cat to the vet because she was having difficulty swallowing, and had lost her voice. I was afraid she had something lodged in her throat, and didn't want to tamper with it and cause her to choke. They sedated her, and said they couldn't find anything, but she had bruising at the top of her mouth, meaning she might have swallowed something big that damaged it. Over time, her voice (meowing) and swallowing improved, but never fully returned to normal.

This spring, she started coughing. Her swallowing difficulty seemed to reemerge, and is getting worse. She is eating, drinking, and seems happy, but as she purrs it triggers her hacking cough, so I took her to the vet. She has lost only a little weight, has no temperature (no signs of an infection). I opted to get an x-ray done this time. It came back with a dark circular object on her left side. Below is the actual report.

Any suggestions or guidance from here? I believe it's not clear if it's in the lungs or between the lungs and ribs. I rather follow up with an ultrasound instead of a CT scan (too expensive and too much radiation), perhaps it could provide more information on where the bubble is located? I don't want her to have to go through invasive/intensive surgery at the age of 14, but I do want to hear all of my options at this point. I don't understand all of the terminology in the report below, so any clarification is helpful. Thank you

Report Assessment:
1. Cavitary lesion in the left caudal lung lobe. This has a thicker rim than typical for uncomplicated pulmonary bulla. This may represent cavitary primary pulmonary neoplasia or a granuloma.
There is an additional nodular opacity over the caudal portion of the left cranial lung lobe seen on the ventrodorsal view. This is not confirmed on the lateral views. It may represent a true pulmonary nodule; however, an artifact of superimposition is also possible.
Recheck radiographs are suggested in four weeks to evaluate for progression. If more immediate and thorough evaluation is desired, thoracic CT is suggested.
The large cavitary lesion could certainly be responsible for the patient's coughing, causing compression of the adjacent bronchi.
2. Cardiomegaly with no specific cardiac chamber enlargements are cardiac decompensation. This appearance may be normal for this patient. Alternatively, subclinical cardiomyopathy or hypertrophy secondary to hyperthyroidism. Recheck radiographs are suggested in 6 to 12 months to evaluate for progression. Echocardiography could be considered if clinically indicated.
3. Normal abdomen.
4. Narrowed lumbosacral intervertebral disk space. Clinical correlation would be required to determine the significance of this finding.

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domestic short hair
9 Weeks
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Not Eating
Not drinking water
Open mouth
Shallow Rapid Breathing

Medication Used

Pain medication and antibiotics

My 9 week old kitten was unfortunately attacked by another cat. I brought him to the emergency clinic and it was found that he had 4-5 broken ribs, a broken sternum and puncture wounds to his lung(s) that subsequently led to air surrounding them. The emergency vet wrapped him up in a vest and gave him enough pain medicine to last until I took him to my regular vet the next morning. My regular vet prescribed pain medication and antibiotics and said to return 5 days later. Tigger was doing good up until today. It seems that he has took an unexpected turn for the worst and I am unsure on what to do. It is clear that he uncomfortable so I give him pain medication which is supposed to last 4-6 hours but now is barely working. I have kept in contact with the vet throughout the evening and she only tells me to give him more medication. His appointment is not until tomorrow afternoon and I’m unsure if I should bring him into the emergency clinic tonight or wait until tomorrow. My vet has heard his breathing and is aware of his symptoms (shallow rapid breathing, breathing through mouth, not eating or drinking water, loud meowing that I assume is from pain). My vet thinks the medicine will help him throughout the night but it seems that he may have grown a tolerance to it and is constantly in pain

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3 Weeks
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Sleeps a lot
Very quiet meow
Lungs sound like plastic bag
Looks for nipple but wont eat
Mouth open breathing

My kitten was stepped pn by my roommate. He takes big spaced out breaths, breaths with mouth open, refuses to eat but searches his mom for a nipple, sleeps 99% of the time. And his meow his very quiet now. His lungs sound like someone messing with a plastic bag.

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domestic short hair
Eight Years
Mild condition
0 found helpful
Mild condition

Has Symptoms

Rapid breathing

Medication Used

Under kitty magic sedation

My cat had a thoracentitis and during the procedure there was a point a small amount of the fluid came out pink tinged, but resolved. What could that have been indicative of? She later passed within an hour after breathing rapidly. She was thought to have some hard disease possibly and scheduled for a pluerectomy and tying off of her lymph duct the following week.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
A small amount of pink tinged fluid doesn’t tell us much, the pink colour may be due to a little bit of blood from the puncture wound to drain the fluid; examination of the fluid in more detail to look for cancerous cell or other indicators would have been more valuable. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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5 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

Heavy Breathing
Unable to jump
Open mouth purring

Medication Used


My cat was diagnosed with a collapsed lung on the left side, as well as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. X-ray also showed a dark spot, possibly a mass, on the right side of her chest. She is only 4 years old. What are the chances of this possible mass being cancer? And what is the correct treatment for the collapsed lung? My vet prescribed an antibiotic for 14 days in case of bacteria in the lungs, but other than that, she did not discuss treatment for the pneumothorax long term. Cam is resolve on its own?

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
Dark spots on an x-ray indicate air and grey/white spots indicate tissue, bone, foreign objects etc… the denser the tissue or object the more white it is; I cannot say what the mass may be without examining Aida and reviewing x-rays. Treatment for pneumothorax depends on the underlying cause and the severity which may include medical management, surgery, drainage of air from the pleural cavity among other options. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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7 Months
Serious condition
0 found helpful
Serious condition

Has Symptoms

Huge weight loss,notdrinking on own

Cat was poked/stabbed with something by a child being mean. Small pen size punctures. It's been 4 days Now and breathing has now become with mouth opened and heavy!it's a stray kitten and no vet anywhere close nor do I have money! I need to know if there is any kids pain meds I can give her and amounts and if nebuliver treatments will help and if albutorl is okay to use in it.or somehow to release air that may be surrounding lungs. I really don't want to lose this kitten. I have a bond with her now and I need help saving her.

Dr. Michele King, DVM
Dr. Michele King, DVM
1611 Recommendations
There are not any safe OTC medications for cats, and many of them are quite toxic. If she has had trauma to her chest cavity, I'm not sure that nebulizer treatments will help her. If she is open mouth breathing, that is a serious condition in cats and indicates significant breathing problems. She does need to see an emergency veterinarian, and home care will likely not help her. I hope that she is okay.

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long hair
3 Years
Moderate condition
0 found helpful
Moderate condition

Has Symptoms

A bit lethargic

Medication Used

Pain killer

My cat was diagnosed with very small amount of air in the chest . This happened after he fell from a third floor. What are the odds of it getting worse? Will it get better without further treatment? His breathing is normal.

Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
Dr. Callum Turner, DVM
3320 Recommendations
It really depends on the severity of the injury especially if there is internal damage to the lungs or to the chest cavity wall; without examining Milano I cannot say whether this would get worse or not but if he is breathing normally you should monitor him but surgery may be required and should be discussed with your Veterinarian. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM

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