Respiratory Distress in Cats
Is extremely dangerous and can have several potential underlying causes

Respiratory distress in cats can be a frightening experience for both you and your pet.

However in the vast majority of cases, you may not even know that they have this condition until it becomes very serious.

With any type of trouble in breathing, your cat will experience a shortness of breath at any time during their normal breathing process rather it be breathing in or breathing out.

When this condition starts to become severe, your cat may not be getting enough oxygen from the lungs into their tissues which may become a life threatening situation.


Respiratory distress in cats, also referred to as Dyspnea, has a litany of potential causes ranging from fluid on the lungs, called Edema, to the beginning stages of heart failure.

What makes this condition especially challenging to owners, is that it is a developing situation that is experienced by your cat.

The challenging aspect is that ut may show you only limited symptoms that will warn you that something is wrong.

If your cat could talk, they would tell you that something is not right and they have one of the five stages of this frightening condition. You may not see it, but they are living it.

Stage one is where your cat has absolutely no problems breathing unless there has been some type of a very strenuous experience or exercise.

Stage two is when they start to have trouble breathing when walking for long distances or have exerted more energy than normal.

Stage three is where your cat starts to have trouble breathing during any type of a normal walking or routine activity and they have to stop in order to catch their breath.

Stage four is where they have to completely stop after only a few minutes and now are having a much more difficult time in getting breath into their lungs.

Stage five is when they have reached a point where they are having a difficult time in breathing in just getting up or down.

But there is one major problem; your cat can not talk and communicate with you how this potentially life threatening condition is actually affecting them, but it is affecting them.

Although it might not be as visible to you as several other types of conditions that will have symptoms that are easy to detect and react to, there are still some symptoms that you can watch for with respiratory distress in cats


Green Eyes in catsRespiratory distress in cats may be the first sign of heart failure

The first symptom of respiratory distress in cats that may indicate your pet has a difficulty in breathing will be a sudden inclination to become stressed very easily.

This symptom will be even more apparent to you than the actual difficulty in breathing.

Your cat is experiencing something and the sensation they are going through will begin to stress even the calmest of cats.

The next obvious symptom of respiratory distress in cats will be coughing.

It is extremely abnormal for a cat to cough and any time they do it should send you all kinds of warning signals and this is no exception.

Once they start to cough, pay very close attention to their breathing habits.

Knowing and understanding the normal breathing rate in your cat is extremely important even under normal circumstances.

The best time to test your cat’s number of breaths is when they are sleeping.

Normal respiratory rates in a healthy cat should be somewhere between 20 and 30 breaths per minute.

However, the most telling as well as chilling symptom that may show early signs that your cat is have trouble breathing, is if they begin to pant.

Cats should never pant unless they have had an extremely frightening experience; or, if they have a stressful experience.

If they pant from stress, it is almost always due to a difficulty in breathing properly and you now know what is causing the stress.


Respiratory distress in cats can literally have over a hundred potential causes, but there are some that are far and away the most common.

The first is from a heart disease or an actual failure of the heart and this breathing problem may be your best chance at doing something before it becomes too late.

Heart failure in cats is a situation where your pet’s heart is not pumping enough blood to their muscles and other tissues.

Without this blood supply, oxygen cannot be delivered and the result is respiratory distress.

The next potential cause is from fluid in the lungs of your pet which is a very common condition is all breeds of cats and is referred to as Pleural effusion.

With this condition, your cat develops an abnormal accumulation of fluid in their pleural space, which is the cavity that lies between their lungs and thoracic wall.

There is always a small amount of fluid present in this cavity that acts as a lubricant in preventing friction and as such allows your cats lungs to expand and contract normally.

However, when something goes wrong in either the production of this fluid or the removal of the fluid, it allows for a very large amount of other fluids to enter this space.

Once this occurs, the lungs do not operate properly and the lobes may actually collapse, which is life threatening.

Lung diseases as well as tumors or a cancer growth which places pressure on your cats airways are also potential causes of respiratory distress in cats.

Some type of a traumatic incident that has caused your cat to bleed internally affecting their lungs may also be the cause.

However, perhaps the fastest growing concern for cat owners with respiratory distress in cats is from viral, bacterial, or fungal infections, as well as lung worms.

Viral pneumonia as well as chronic bronchitis is potential causes.

Chronic bronchitis is more common in younger cats and viral pneumonia as well as cancer is more common in older cats.

But there is one other common cause that seems to be a growing concern in both North America as well several European countries, especially is heavily wooded landscapes or by lakes, and that is Lung worms.

If your cat spends a lot of time outdoors, they are especially at risk and can become infected by eating snails or slugs that are infected by lung worms.


The major cause of a cat starting to cough is from this infection, which very rapidly affects your pet’s lungs and their ability to breathe properly.

Respiratory distress in cats is very difficult for you to detect, but not difficult at all for your pet as they know something is wrong.

If you learn your cats breathing patterns and listen to them very closely, you can hear them talking to you with their breathing.

If it becomes anything other than the smooth and rhythmic 20 to 30 breaths per minute, you than know all you need to know to begin to help.

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