- Health Library
- PetMD U
The respiratory system has many parts, including the nose, throat (pharynx and larynx), windpipe, and lungs. Air comes in through the nose and is then carried down into the lungs, through a process referred to as inspiration. In the lungs, the oxygen is transferred to the red blood cells. The red blood cells then carry the oxygen to other organs in the body. This is all part of the physical process of a healthy body.
While oxygen is being transferred to the red blood cells, carbon dioxide is transferred from the red blood cells into the lungs. It is then carried out through the nose through a process referred to as expiration. This cyclic motion of breathing is controlled by the respiratory center in the brain and nerves in the chest. Diseases that affect the respiratory system, or the respiratory center in the brain, can bring about breathing difficulties. Troubled or labored breathing is medically referred to as dyspnea, and excessively rapid breathing is medically referred to as tachypnea (also, polypnea).
Breathing difficulties can affect cats of any breed or age, and the problem can quickly become life threatening. If your cat is having problems with breathing it should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Difficulty Breathing (dyspnea)
Fast breathing (tachypnea)
Other symptoms, depending on the cause of the breathing problem
Tachypnea (fast breathing)
If your cat is having difficulty breathing, this can be a life threatening emergency. It is important to have your cat seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible. You will need to give a thorough history of your cat's health, onset of symptoms, and possible incidents that might have preceded this condition. During the examination, the veterinarian will carefully observe how your cat breathes, and will listen to its chest for evidence of a heart murmur or fluid in the lungs. Your cat's gum color will be carefully evaluated as well, since the color of the gums can indicate whether oxygen is being delivered to the organs (hypoxemia) effectively, or if it there is a low red blood cell count (anemia). Your veterinarian may try to get your cat to cough by pressing on its windpipe. If your cat is having extreme difficulty breathing, the veterinarian will give your cat oxygen to help it breathe before doing any more tests.
Standard tests include a complete blood count, biochemical profile, and urine analysis. These will help your veterinarian to determine if your cat has an infection or a low red blood cell count. They will also show whether your cat's internal organs are functioning normally. Your veterinarian will also draw a sample of blood to test the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your cat's blood. This will help to determine how severe your cat's breathing difficulty is and whether the problem is in the lungs or somewhere else in the chest. Your veterinarian may also draw blood for a heartworm test. Other diagnostic tools that may be used are X-ray and ultrasound images of the chest, both to examine for an enlarged heart that can lead to heart failure, and to see if the lungs appear normal. The internal structure of the abdomen may also be examined using this method. If there appears to be an accumulation of fluid in the chest, lungs or belly, some of that fluid will be drawn off for analysis.
If your cat does appear to have a heart problem, your veterinarian may also order an ECG (electrocardiogram) to measure the rhythm and electrical activity of the heart, both of which determine the heart's ability to operate normally. If your cat's problem is in its nose or airways, a small camera called an endoscope may be used to get a closer look at these areas. These procedures are known as rhinoscopy and bronchoscopy, respectively. While your veterinarian is examining your cat with the endoscope, samples of fluid and cells may be taken for biopsic analysis.
Excess breathing or panting
A medical condition in which gas or air collects in the pleural space
The area between the folds of the pleura; airtight
Pertaining to the lungs
The collection of fluid in the tissue of the lungs
The windpipe; it carries air from the bronchi to the mouth
The term for a quick heartbeat
A cavity in the mouth where the respiratory systems and gastrointestinal systems come together
The voice box; this is one part of the respiratory system
Having a hard time breathing; breathing takes great pains
The collection of fluid in the peritoneal cavity.
The collection of fluid in the tissue
The escape of fluid or blood into tissues or body spaces or cavities
A type of instrument that is used to look inside the body
A record of the activity of the myocardium
A condition of the blood in which normal red blood cell counts or hemoglobin are lacking.