You may notice that your cat’s breathing is becoming laboured if it is ill with a respiratory infection, often due to a build-up of fluid in the lungs. But equally, this problem can arise suddenly, in a cat which has previously seemed quite healthy. This is one of those conditions which requires urgent veterinary investigation, simply because it could otherwise turn out to be rapidly fatal. There is little that you can do, other than seek professional help.
Your vet will best be able to determine what is causing a particular breathing problem, through examining your cat. Though it is a good idea to check your cat’s throat first for any obvious obstruction.
It can be very alarming if your cat comes in showing obvious signs of respiratory distress. It may just be that it has been running fast to escape a pursuing dog but, more likely, this type of behaviour may be an indicator that it has been hit by a passing vehicle. Aside from the shock of the encounter, there could be an underlying haemorrhage in the chest cavity, which is making breathing difficult. Should there be an open wound into the chest region, it’s possible that the lung itself may have collapsed, which is known as pneumothorax.
CHECK IF YOUR CAT HAS A THROAT OBSTRUCTION
In some cases though, it could be that the problem is higher up the respiratory tract, particularly if your cat has been scavenging and eaten part of a chicken carcass. Some of the bones may then have impaled themselves at the back of the mouth, causing your cat to start gagging, as a result of the partial obstruction to its airways.
Even in this case, it will probably be advisable to contact your vet, because there is a risk of serious bleeding if you manage to remove the obstruction successfully. Breathing difficulty can also occur if a cat has started to drown, with fluid building up in the lungs. If this is the case, holding your cat upside down will help to drain the fluid back out of the air passages.
Even after recovery from drowning, cats can still suffer breathing difficulty if they develop inhalation pneumonia.
Breeds with flat, compressed faces such as Persian Longhairs may snuffle as the result of their compressed nasal passages, but it’s not a cause for concern.
Poisons, such as Warfarin, can cause difficulty in breathing.
Q. What should I do if my cat collapses and has difficulty in breathing?
First check that the airway is clear. Try to have someone at hand to help you. Open your pet’s mouth carefully and shine a bright light down the back of throat to check for any swelling or obstruction. It could be an insect sting or bite which is responsible for the problem, causing the tongue to swell up and block off the airway.
Q. Should I remove any obstruction?
In an emergency, you will need to remove the object, but take great care that it cannot slip further down the throat, where it will be harder to retrieve. Using tweezers to gain a firm grip on the object will reduce the likelihood of being bitten as you reach into your cat’s mouth. In the case of a sting or bite in the mouth, you will need veterinary help at once.
Anything which affects the movement of the lungs, such as pleural effusion (causing the shadow in the chest), can cause breathing difficulties.