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Fluid In and Around a Cat's Lungs

Cats' breathing problems can be much worse than their behavior would lead you to believe. Cats may not show major changes in their health until they have trouble breathing a lot. At this point, they can quickly get respiratory failure. Our Springfield vets will teach you how to spot the signs of lung problems in cats in this post.

Having too much fluid in the lungs is a serious medical emergency that needs immediate care. Cats with fluid in their lungs are more likely to have trouble breathing if the fluid has built up inside or around the lungs and normal outflow isn't happening.

When fluid builds up in or around a cat's lungs, it is known as either pleural effusion or pulmonary edema. Cats can get permanent damage, or even die, if they aren't treated. The conditions can be caused by several things, such as congestive heart failure, cancer, infections, traumatic injuries, or even electrocution.

Where are a cat's lungs?

Most of the space in a cat's chest cavity is taken up by its lungs, which are two triangular, elastic organs that sit opposite each other on each side of the heart. They look almost the same as their human counterparts, work the same way, and serve the same basic functions, which are to remove carbon dioxide from the bloodstream and make sure the blood always has enough oxygen to stay alive.

What are the symptoms of fluid in my cat's lungs?

Signs that your cat's lungs are filled with fluid include:

  • Labored or difficulty breathing with deep, rapid breaths, especially when inhaling
  • Open-mouth breathing with crackling noises
  • Wheezing
  • Dry cough
  • Increased respiratory rate (more than 30 times a minute when at rest)
  • Blue or grey discoloration of the mucous membranes
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Inability to exercise, weakness, sluggishness
  • Abdominal swelling or distention
  • Fainting
  • Chest pain
  • Fever

As mentioned above, there are two main types of fluid collection: pulmonary edema and pleural effusion,

Pulmonary Edema

Edema is the accumulation of fluid inside the lungs and is linked to conditions such as pneumonia (inflammation) and heart disease. It happens when the blood vessels and tissues surrounding the lungs are damaged by disease or blunt trauma, causing fluid to back up into the alveoli. Alveoli normally transport oxygen into the lungs, but they are being replaced by fluid that is leaking into them.

Pleural Effusion

Pleural effusion is a condition in which fluid accumulates in the space between the lungs and the chest cavity. It can be a sign of congestive heart failure, but it can also be a sign of other diseases. Chylothorax, or an accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the chest, is a serious complication of the condition.

There are three types of fluid formation in and around the lungs. Treatment will be determined by the type of condition your pet is suffering from.

Hemothorax: an accumulation of blood in the pleural cavity caused by blunt chest trauma, tumors, or a clotting disorder.
Hydrothorax: an accumulation of clear fluid in the pleural cavity, which is frequently attributed to a disruption in blood flow or lymph drainage.
Chylothorax: a rare condition characterized by the buildup of fatty, lymphatic fluid in the pleural cavity. It can happen as a result of cancer or trauma, for example.

What causes fluid collection in the lungs?

There are many causes of fluid collection, but some of the most common are:

  • A viral infection
  • Pneumonia
  • Heart failure with congestive edema
  • Cancer
  • Injuries caused by trauma
  • Protein deficiency in the blood
  • Toxin exposition (e.g., smoke and snake venom)
  • A blockage in the airway
  • Almost drowning (where a high amount of fluid enters the lungs)
  • Embolism of the lungs
  • Torsion of the lung lobe (twisting of a lung lobe)
  • Blood clots

What is the treatment for fluid collection in the lungs?

If there is insufficient ventilation and perfusion (oxygen coming in and carbon dioxide going out), oxygen therapy may be required to help your pet breathe. At this point, the veterinarian may want to hospitalize your pet. Your cat will be examined once it is stable. The veterinarian will first attempt to remove the fluid buildup and relieve the pressure on the lungs and heart. A thoracentesis is routinely done to not only remove fluid but also to determine the cause of the fluid, especially when the origin is not apparent.

A thoracentesis procedure may not be necessary if an animal has fluid in both lungs and no chest pain or fever. If the fluid persists and the source of the fluid is unknown, a different course of treatment may be required. If the fluid does not persist for more than three days while being treated, a veterinarian may not need to operate.

Periodic x-rays will be taken to monitor treatment progress, and medications to aid in fluid removal may be administered. These medications can include heartworm medications, antibiotics, and diuretics.

Additional procedures may be required in the long run, depending on the cause of the fluid accumulation. These include additional thoracentesis or the placement of a chest drain.

Do you believe your cat has fluid in their lungs? Contact our Springfield team today so we can assess your pet and advise on the appropriate treatment.

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