Pleural effusion is the most common cause of breathing problems in cats. Pleural effusion is an accumulation of fluid in the space surrounding your cat’s lungs. The fluid can be blood, serum, pus, lymphatic fluid, or anything else that can cause crowding in the chest cavity. It restricts the lungs and prevents them from fully filling with air. It is found in both dogs and cats, but is more common in cats. This problem may become life threatening if left untreated.
Signs & Symptoms of Pleural Effusion in Cats
- Difficulty breathing
- Pale or blueish gums, lips, or tongue due to insufficient oxygen in the blood
- Unusual sitting or laying positions to allow for expansion of chest
- Low tolerance to exercise
Symptoms usually depend on the underlying cause of the pleural effusion. They may include fever, pale tongue, gums, and nose, weight loss, and other diagnostic signs of heart, liver, or kidney disease.
Causes of Pleural Effusion in Cats
Fluid can collect around the lungs for a number of reasons. It is mostly a symptom of another disease or problem, and is rarely a disease itself. The most common cause is feline infectious peritonitis or feline leukemia in cats.. Other causes include liver disease, kidney failure, pancreatitis, trauma, and various cancers. Bacterial pneumonia can cause infected material to collect in the cavity, producing an infected pleural effusion.
Diagnosis of Pleural Effusion in Cats
Diagnosis begins with a complete history and a physical exam. Your veterinarian will be most likely do the following:
- Physical Examination - Your veterinarian may be able to diagnose by evaluating your cat’s symptoms and listening to its chest with a stethoscope
- Radiographs - This may show fluid blurring the view of the internal organs.
- Ultrasound - This may show fluid accumulating in the chest cavity, and help the veterinarian to direct the needle when draining the fluid.
Treatment for Pleural Effusion in Cats
If your veterinarian finds that your cat has fluid around its lungs, they will immediately give your cat oxygen to assist with breathing. They will likely drain the fluid by sticking a needle through the chest wall, and using suction to empty the chest cavity. This will relieve the tension and allow enough room for your cat to breathe. A chest drain may need to be placed and left in for a few days to drain all the accumulated fluid. Pain medications and antibiotics to prevent or treat infection will likely be prescribed by your veterinarian. Depending on the cause of the accumulation, other drugs, surgery, or more intensive treatment may be needed.
Prevention of Pleural Effusion in Cats
Pleural effusion may be prevented by:
- Keeping your cat calm and reducing exercise can help prevent their breathing from becoming too labored.
- Avoiding extreme heat and high-sodium foods can benefit your cat if it has been diagnosed with pleural effusion.
Monitoring your cat’s unusual behaviors can aid in early detection. Difficulty breathing is an emergency and you will need to seek veterinary attention ASAP.