Difficult or Labored Breathing in Cats

Difficult or labored breathing is a very serious and potentially life threatening emergency that requires immediate medical attention.

Signs of Difficult or Labored Breathing

  • Open mouth breathing
  • Abdomen heaves with every breath
  • Fast and short breaths (hyperventilating)
  • Breathing is noisy (raspy or congested)
  • Gum color is grey or blue instead of pink
  • Tongue is blue or purple instead of pink

What You Can Do Until an Emergency Veterinary Visit

  • Make sure that your cat has a clear airway. Check for objects stuck in the back of the throat, gently wipe away any discharge coming out of the nose, etcetera.
  • Cats who are having trouble breathing are usually very stressed and anxious. Avoid doing anything that might cause additional stress to your cat (e.g., chasing your cat, restraining him/her while he/she is struggling to get away from you).

Common Causes of Difficult or Labored Breathing

  • Upper respiratory infection with severe nasal discharge
  • Asthma
  • Pneumonia
  • Heart disease
  • Anemia (low red blood cell count)

Treatment of Difficult or Labored Breathing

  • Treatment of the underlying medical issue.
  • Cats with severe difficulty breathing difficulties may require supplemental oxygen, which will involve a stay at a veterinary hospital.
  • Medication to help your cat breathe (e.g., bronchodilators, steroidal anti-inflammatories) may be given. This medication may be oral or may be administered via an inhaler.
  • Activity restriction, at least until the breathing problem is significantly improved.

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