Labored Breathing in Cats

Updated April 17, 2017

Oxygen is vital to every living creature for proper health. If your cat is having trouble breathing, its body may not be getting the correct amount of oxygen to its tissues and organs. Dyspnea, or respiratory distress, is a condition characterised by breathing problems, such as laboured breathing or shortness of breath. Fluid build-up in the lungs or chest often accompanies this breathing trouble, and may be the cause of it.


The respiratory system is made up of many parts, such as the nose, throat and lungs, and any of these can become infected or inflamed and result in difficulty breathing. Any cat, regardless of age or breed, can develop breathing troubles, and should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as you notice trouble. Possible causes for breathing difficulty include tumours, pneumonia and infections.


Difficulty breathing is a general term and can come with many different additional symptoms, such as unusual body posture. Some cats exhibit flared nostrils while trying to breathe, and others extend and lower their head and neck. Breathing trouble can also occur on the inhale or the exhale, without seeming to affect the other action. Other symptoms can include rapid breathing, called tachypnea, or coughing.


Breathing problems can be life-threatening, so you should have your cat seen by a veterinarian as soon as the symptoms are noticed. The doctor will complete a full medical history and a physical examination. Your vet will listen for heart murmurs or accumulation of fluid in the lungs or chest cavity. He will perform certain procedures, such as blood tests or a urinalysis, in order to determine whether your cat has an infection, low red blood cell count or parasites. X-rays and ultrasounds can check the health and appearance of the lungs and heart.


Usually the very first action taken if your cat cannot breathe properly is hospitalisation to administer oxygen. Complete treatment depends on the underlying cause of the breathing problem, and can include treatments such as thoracentesis---or draining of accumulated fluid from around the lungs---and diuretics such as furosemide or spironolactone. In cases of heart failure, your vet may prescribe a drug such as digoxin.

Home Care

Proper home care includes administering medications exactly as prescribed, for as long as necessary, which is sometimes for the duration of the cat's life. Depending on the cause and severity of the problem, it may also be recommended to restrict your cat's activities. Regular checkups with the vet can help discover any patterns in your cat's health concerns, and will be essential in properly caring for it at home.

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About the Author

Jane Williams began her writing career in 2000 as the writer and editor of a nationwide marketing company. Her articles have appeared on various websites. Williams briefly attended college for a degree in administration before embarking on her writing career.