Feline respiratory distress (Proceedings)

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Feline respiratory distress (Proceedings)

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Nov 01, 2010

Cats with respiratory distress represent a significant diagnostic and therapeutic challenge to the small animal veterinarian. The most common causes of feline respiratory distress are pulmonary edema, pleural effusion, asthma, and neoplasia. Available methods to try to elucidate the etiology of an individual cat's respiratory distress include evaluation of historical and physical examination findings, thoracic radiography, cytology and ultrasonography or echocardiography. Additionally, it is important to distinguish respiratory distress that is a presenting complaint from respiratory distress that develops during hospitalization for another problem and to quantify distress as mild, moderate, severe or immediately life-threatening.

Respiratory distress at presentation

Respiratory distress as a presenting complaint is a common condition for the emergency feline practitioner. Additionally, it is well-recognized that cats with respiratory difficulty are challenging to treat, as these cats create a large amount of anxiety in many veterinarians, due to fears of either excessive stress associated with therapy or difficulty with determining the underlying diagnosis.

Pertinent historical findings may include a previous diagnosis of heart or lung disease. Many owners recall a prior diagnosis of a heart murmur, or past episodes of coughing which may suggest airway disease. Additionally, while cats have a lower incidence of traumatic pulmonary contusion or pneumothorax than dogs, access to the outdoors may support a traumatic etiology. Other factors, such as signalment and progression of clinical signs are less frequently helpful, although hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is more common in male cats and the Siamese breed has a reportedly higher incidence of airway disease.

Physical examination findings are often helpful in determining the cause of feline respiratory distress. The body temperature is frequently subnormal in cats with heart disease, but is generally normal or even elevated with pulmonary disease. Similarly, an elevated heart rate (>200 bpm) is often associated with heart failure, while cats with primarily respiratory disease may have a slower heart rate. However, cats who are hypothermic due to heart disease may be relatively bradycardiac as well. The presence of a heart murmur, gallop rhythm or arrhythmias is strong evidence for cardiac disease. Jugular venous distension may be present with heart disease, although some evidence suggests that jugular distension may accompany pleural effusion of any etiology. The heart failure cat rarely presents with ascites. Crackles may be present with both pulmonary edema and asthma. Diminished respiratory sounds, particularly ventrally, often signifies pleural effusion as does a significant abdominal component to respiration. Cats with severe pleural effusion may occasionally appear to have upper airway obstruction.