How to Help Your Cat Breathe Easier


Cats get colds and may also experience more severe respiratory (breathing) problems from time to time. If your cat has difficulty breathing, it is important to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to determine what is causing the congestion and get treatment for your pet. You may also benefit from knowing how to tell if your cat is having difficulty breathing, learning how to ease your cat's breathing, and finding out more about common respiratory problems in cats.

Part 1
Spotting Upper Respiratory Problems

Spotting Upper Respiratory Problems on How to Help Your Cat Breathe Easier

1
Runny noses are common in cats. If your cat has some nasal discharge around her nose, it may be mucus or muco-purulent, which is mucus stained with pus. These sorts of mucus are often yellow or green in color.[1] Some cats with nasal allergies may have a clear, dripping discharge from their nostrils, but this can be difficult to spot if the cat regularly licks it away. If you see nasal discharge, look closely to see if it comes from one, or both nostrils. A bilateral discharge (from both sides) is more likely to be caused by an infection or allergy, while a unilateral (one sided) drip could be caused by a foreign body, or infection in one side of the nose.

Spotting Upper Respiratory Problems on How to Help Your Cat Breathe Easier

2
When humans have a blocked nose, we give it a good blow on a tissue. Cats, however, cannot do this and their way to clear their nose is to sneeze.[2] If you notice that your cat sneezes a lot, you will need to schedule an appointment with your vet to determine the cause. It might be allergies or an infection, but your veterinarian will have to test your cat’s mucus to be sure.

Spotting Upper Respiratory Problems on How to Help Your Cat Breathe Easier

3
Cats often suffer from nasal congestion because of rhinitis (inflammation in the nasal passages that produces mucus), infection (including viral conditions such as cat flu) and because of inhaled foreign bodies (such as a grass awn that shot up the nose when the cat sniffed at it).[3] The most common cause of nasal and sinus congestion are viral infections. These viruses include feline herpesvirus (FVR) and feline calicivirus (FCV). These infections also cause swollen, red, and runny eyes along with mouth ulcers and salivation.[4] You can help protect your cat from these viruses by keeping your cat’s vaccinations up-to-date and keeping your cats away from any cats that seem sick. The recurrent viral illnesses in cats suppress your cats immune system so that secondary, opportunistic and very damaging bacteria invade the area and cause more severe disease, discharge, and lack of appetite. Realize also that many times your kitty has 'cleared' the viral illness, but the more 'difficult to clear' bacterial invaders remain. This is why it is vital that you have your pet checked by a licensed veterinarian if any of the above symptoms occur. These conditions cause breathing difficulties because of the mucus that builds up in your cat’s nose. Just like people with a heavy cold, the mucus blocks the nasal passageways and makes it difficult to breath.

Part 2
Spotting Lower Respiratory Problems

Spotting Lower Respiratory Problems on How to Help Your Cat Breathe Easier

1
The number of breathes a cat takes each minute is called the respiratory rate. The normal respiratory rate for cat is between 20 to 30 breaths per minute. Both the rate (number of breaths) and how the cat breaths can indicate if she has a problem. There is a certain amount of leeway in the normal respiratory rate range, for instance a cat taking 32 breaths a minute, who is otherwise perfectly well, is not considered abnormal. [5] You should, however, become concerned if you notice that your cat’s breathing rate is around 35 to 40 breaths per minute, or if her breathing is labored.

Spotting Lower Respiratory Problems on How to Help Your Cat Breathe Easier

2
A cat’s normal breathing movements are subtle and difficult to spot, so there may be a problem if your cat seem to be working hard to draw breath. Labored breathing means that your cat must make exaggerated movements with her chest or abdomen in order to suck in or push out air.[6] To determine if your cat is breathing normally, it is best to fix your gaze on one spot (perhaps a whorl of fur on her chest) and watch as it moves slowly up and down. Her belly muscles should not be involved in filling her chest with air. If her tummy expands and contracts as she breaths, this is abnormal. If her chest "heaves" and makes exaggerated, easy to see, in-out breathing movements, or her belly moves in as she breathes, this is abnormal.

Spotting Lower Respiratory Problems on How to Help Your Cat Breathe Easier

3
A cat with breathing difficulties usually adopts the "air hunger" position. She sits or lies with her elbows held away from her body, her head and neck extended as if to straighten her windpipe.[7] A cat in this position may also open her mouth and begin to pant.

Spotting Lower Respiratory Problems on How to Help Your Cat Breathe Easier

4
A cat with breathing difficulties may feel distressed. In order to determine if your cat is distressed, look at her facial expression. She may look anxious, with the corners of her mouth drawn back in a grimace. Some other signs of distress include:[8] dilated pupils ears flattened whiskers back acting aggressive when approached tail close to body

Spotting Lower Respiratory Problems on How to Help Your Cat Breathe Easier

5
Cats may pant after exercising in order to cool themselves down, but panting at rest is not normal for a cat. If your cat pants often when resting, seek veterinary advice because this may be a sign of breathing problems.[9] Cats may also pant when they are anxious or frightened, so consider your cat’s environment as well.

Part 3
Caring For a Cat with Nasal Congestion

Caring For a Cat with Nasal Congestion on How to Help Your Cat Breathe Easier

1
If your cat shows signs of an infection (yellow or green mucus from the nose) then talk to your veterinarian about whether or not your cat needs a prescription for antibiotics.[10] If the vet suspects the infection is viral then antibiotics may be of no help. Likewise, if antibiotics are prescribed, it may take four to five days before the infection improves, so in the meantime you can help to ease your cat's breathing in other ways.

Caring For a Cat with Nasal Congestion on How to Help Your Cat Breathe Easier

2
The warm, moist vapor of steam helps to loosen up mucus and makes it easier to sneeze out. Obviously, you cannot put a cat's head over a bowl of boiling water because if she panics and knocks the bowl you will both be put in danger. Instead, use a steamy room to help clear up your cat’s congestion. To do this:[11] Take the cat into the bathroom and shut the door. Switch the shower onto hot and draw the shower screen so that there is a solid barrier between the cat and the hot water. Sit in the steamy atmosphere for 10 minutes at a time. If you can do this two to three times a day, your cat should be able to breathe a little easier.

Caring For a Cat with Nasal Congestion on How to Help Your Cat Breathe Easier

3
This may sound obvious but if the cat's nose is stuffed up or dirty, clean it. Hold a cotton ball under the faucet and then use the wet cotton ball to wash your cat’s nose. Work away any dried mucus that may be encrusted on your cat’s nose. If the cat has a heavy nasal discharge then wiping the nose regularly can really help make your cat more comfortable.

Caring For a Cat with Nasal Congestion on How to Help Your Cat Breathe Easier

4
Some mucus is so thick and tacky that it sits like glue inside the nasal chambers and make it impossible for the cat to breathe through her nose. In cases like this your vet may prescribe a "mucolytic". This is a drug, such as Bisolvin, which breaks down mucus and helps it to liquefy. The active ingredient in Bisolvin is bromhexine. When the mucus thins, your cat will have an easier time sneezing it out. Bisolvin comes in 5 gram (g) sachets and can be mixed in food once or twice a day. The dose for a cat is 0.5 g per 5 kg of body weight. This translates as a "generous pinch" from the sachet, once or twice a day on food. [12]

Part 4
Understanding Common Feline Breathing Problems

Understanding Common Feline Breathing Problems on How to Help Your Cat Breathe Easier

1
Chest problems include infections, pneumonia, heart disease, lung disease, tumors, and fluid around the lungs (pleural effusion). These conditions need to be treated by a veterinarian. If you think your cat has chest congestion, do not try home remedies; delaying your cat’s visit to the vet may only make her condition worse.[13]

Understanding Common Feline Breathing Problems on How to Help Your Cat Breathe Easier

2
Pneumonia is a serious lung infection. Toxins from bacteria and viruses cause inflammation in the lungs and may also cause discharge to collect in the lungs. When this occurs, the oxygen exchange in your cat’s lungs slows down, forcing your cat to work harder to breathe. Intense antibiotics are generally prescribed to treat pneumonia. If your cat is very sick, she may also need supportive care, such as intravenous fluids or an oxygen tent.[14]

Understanding Common Feline Breathing Problems on How to Help Your Cat Breathe Easier

3
A diseased heart is inefficient at pumping blood around the body. Shifts in blood pressure in the lungs allow fluid to leak out of the blood vessels and into lung tissue. Just like with pneumonia, this reduces the ability of the lungs to exchange oxygen, which may cause your cat to become breathless. If heart disease is to blame for your cat’s difficulty breathing, your veterinarian will try to determine the type of heart disease and prescribe the right medications. Cats often require oxygen therapy to help stabilize them before any type of medicine or other treatments can be administered.[15]

Understanding Common Feline Breathing Problems on How to Help Your Cat Breathe Easier

4
Lung diseases include conditions such as asthma, where the airways constrict and create resistance to air moving in and out of the lungs. This condition is similar to bronchitis, another lung disease, where the airways are very stiff, the walls become thickened and oxygen exchange is blocked. Asthma may affect allergen-sensitive cats breathing in allergens.[16] For asthma, many cats are prescribed corticosteroids, either by a depot inject or in oral tablet form. Steroids are powerful anti-inflammatory medications that work to reduce inflammation in your cat’s airways. However, salbutamol inhalers are also available for asthmatic cats – if the cat tolerates the face mask. Bronchitis is also treated either with steroids, or a bronchodilator, which is a drug that stimulates the stiff airways to open up.

Understanding Common Feline Breathing Problems on How to Help Your Cat Breathe Easier

5
Lungworms are parasites that can interfere with your cat’s breathing and may go undetected for long periods of time. Severe lungworm infections can cause nasal discharge, coughing, weight loss, and pneumonia.[17] Lungworms can be treated with anti-parasite drugs such as ivermectin or fenbendazole.

Understanding Common Feline Breathing Problems on How to Help Your Cat Breathe Easier

6
Lung tumors or tumors in the chest that are compressing the lungs can decrease the amount of working lung tissue. When lung tissue availability is decreased, your cat may become breathless or develop labored breathing. Tumors take up space in the chest and compress the lungs or major blood vessels. Solitary tumors may be surgically removed, but on the whole the outlook for a cat with lung tumors is poor. Talk to your vet about options.[18]

Understanding Common Feline Breathing Problems on How to Help Your Cat Breathe Easier

7
Pleural effusion is the gathering of fluids around the lungs. This can happen if your cat has kidney disease, an infection, or if your cat has a tumor in her chest that is leaking fluid.[19] This fluid can put pressure on your cat’s lungs, which in turn cause them to collapse. Because of this, they cannot expand fully, making your cat feel short of breath. If your cat is having great difficulty breathing, the veterinarian may drain the fluid off using a special thoracic needle. Removing the fluid allows the lungs to re-inflate and gives temporary relief. However, the fluid will return unless the underlying problem is treated.