When the chest cavity of a cat is filled with fluid, the condition is known as feline chylothorax. If detected early enough and taken care of properly, the disease can be kept under control. However, if symptoms go untreated, the cat can die.
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An excess of fluid fills up the pleural space, the area between the lungs and inner lining of the chest wall. Therefore, the cat cannot completely expand the lungs and begins to take very rapid and shallow breaths.
Aside from the difficulties in breathing, cat owners may also notice that the feline seems to be holding its breath. Coughing can also develop. Fluid may slowly fill the cavity and the cat may adapt to the circumstances for awhile, in which case it will be depressed and not want to exercise. Sometimes there are no symptoms because another disease is overshadowing the chylothorax.
The disease is relatively uncommon in cats; however, when the problem occurs, it tends to be in the Siamese and Himalayan breeds. Males and females are equally susceptible.
About 50 per cent of cases can be attributed to trauma to the chest cavity, heart failure, heartworms, tumours and fungal disease. The other half is unknown at the present time.
After a vet has diagnosed the problem, he or she will drain the fluid with a syringe or needle. If the fluid rebuilds, as it tends to do, a drain tube will be inserted. If all else fails, surgery will have to be performed. New technologies are being developed that aim at treating the underlying cause.
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